Here is an excellent message by Bro. Derrick Tapper of Volunteers of America Southeast I’d like to share. It so speaks into our need to get motivated to make changes without getting discouraged as Christians.
Spiritual Spring Cleaning—by Derrick Tapper
Our Race to Spring Clean
Our journey requires frequent assessment!
What does spring cleaning and the Christian life have to do with each other. Aren’t we kind of mixing the metaphors? I suppose so… but I think they have something in common. They have similar goals. In the Christian life the race is to get to the destination. But some things can keep us from the finish line. And Spring cleaning is about recognizing the build-up. Life tends to gather things and Spring cleaning is about eliminating the clutter. So if the race is the faith journey and spring cleaning is the assessment…then yeah I guess they do go together. Maybe Spring is a good time to assess things in our spiritual journey.
This “get rid of clutter” concept was popularized by a TV show called Clean Sweep which has now been cancelled. Its purpose, or the concept of the show, was to transform living spaces. The homeowners are required to sort through their stuff and put it into 3 piles. The Keep pile, the Sell pile and the Toss pile. It some ways the show was a recognition that life tends to add up. Clutter happens over time and the ability to live is thwarted by stuff…
“For God had far better things in mind for us that would benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.” In some ways, the previous heroes and heroines are examples for us to continue to persevere in life. The passage then becomes an encouragement for us to contend. Even to the death if necessary. This term witness is where we get our term martyr. This spring cleaning doesn’t come without a cost or without effort.
I suppose our spiritual journey requires what their spiritual journey required… frequent assessment of our faith.
What does this assessment look like? The author encourages us to Cast off the obstacles, Check the attitudes and Clarify the vision. Read v.1. “let us strip off every weight that slows us down.” The Greek term was used in a metaphorical sense of “pride” but its literal use is “weight” or impediment. The pride concept doesn’t fit well in this context but we all know that pride can bring downfall as well as anything. Pride can make us believe we are better than we are. Pride can hide our faults and even deceive us into believing things that are untrue about ourselves or our capabilities. But the athletic use of the term, which seems to be the emphasis here, speaks of casting off the superfluous weight one has, as well as an excess weight one can carry around. One is seen in a neutral but impeding way and the other is seen as negative in an impeding way. In the neutral aspect, what is an impediment to one athlete might not be an impediment to another.
The other weight is seen as not just neutral but wrong, sinful. The author is encouraging Christians to travel light, as well as avoid sin and the weight it bears in our lives. This would definitely be the toss pile in the clean sweep show. Traveling light in the neutral sense might mean holding loosely to things that don’t matter. Some friendships keep us from loving and serving God fully. Some hobbies are weights that keep us from loving and serving God fully. Some activities are weights that keep us from loving and serving God fully. Extremes can keep destroying the runner’s soul.
In December 1993 a young Virginia college student slumped onto the wheel of his car as he drove down Highway 17. He swerved into a truck and was killed instantly. What was to blame? Alcohol? No. Drugs? No. Pressure of work? No. A medical problem? No. None of the above. He had gone sleepless for almost a week in his passion to enter the world of “AmberMush”, a multi-user computer network dedicated to role playing games. In real life the student was awkward, shy and had mediocre grades. But on-line he was different as anyone could possibly be. He was a desirable but treacherous, manipulative and street-saavy woman called Sabbath. Always a target for teasing and bullying when growing up, he developed a consummate “game-boy” for whom being on-line was a lifeline to existence itself. He quit real life and moved into cyberspace. Finally the terminal became terminal. Most of us won’t go to the extremes of this college student…but if we look carefully into our souls we can see good things that become bad things because they keep us from God. Even family, though a good thing, when used in wrong ways can keep us form the spiritual race. We tend to see only sinful things as things that keep us from God…this passage tells us different.
The second issue is simply bad things. Sinful things. The text talks about the sins that entangles us. Not all of us are captured by the same sin. Some sins that entrap others have no sway over us. What sin might be yours, covetousness, a critical spirit, laziness, hatred, ingratitude, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, lust, pride, lying, or stealing? You fill in the blank.
It could be neutral things or wrong things but the image in the text is severe. So when neutral things or sinful things impede the race the concept is…We must strip it from our lives. Paul uses the term in Romans 13:12 “The night is almost gone, the day of salvation will soon be here. So don’t live in darkness. Get rid of your evil deeds, shed them like dirty clothes.” Why is it so important to do this. Because sin keeps us out of the game. It imprisons us. It sets us aside. It can destroy us. A phenomenon of nature provides an allegory for this. It’s called a sundew plant. This is a carnivorous plant. A fly lights on one of its leaves to taste one of the glands that grow there. Instantly 3 crimson tipped finger-like hairs bend over and touch the fly’s wings, holding it firm in a sticky grasp. The fly struggles to free itself but only gets more sticky stuff on it. Soon it relaxes and continues to feast on the sundews sweetness. When the fly is entirely at the plant’s mercy, the edges of the leaf fold inward, forming a closed fist. Two hours later the fly is an empty sucked skin, and the fist unfolds its mouth for another prey. This is the picture of entanglement that neutral or sinful things can achieve in our lives. It’s a terrifying reality.
This is why our journey requires frequent assessment. We not only are to cast off the obstacles, Secondly, we are to check our attitudes. The text says “And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” The authors’ concern in the text is that those to whom he is writing started out the gate quickly but soon were crawling instead of running. The issue is endurance. Both non-sinful and sinful things can change our attitudes in life. It can reduce our intensity. It can compromise our passion. It can increase our sluggishness in the spiritual journey. This phrase certainly deals with our attitudes. There’s a couple of supporting hints to this. A quick word study reveals the term “race” can be translated “struggle or contest”. It is where we get our English word “agony.” The Christian life is filled with struggles. Some good struggles, the non-sinful kind, and the sinful kind of struggles. There are major decisions related to faith, moments of trust in uncertain situations. Our journey is contested by events, circumstances, wrongs, and other assorted things that make us want to quit. Make us want to give up. Consider apathy, or lethargy and even parking our spiritual lives. Being Christian means enduring. The second hint that this refers to attitude is the term “endurance”. There will be times in your spiritual journey that you will feel and think that it is impossible to go on. But it is quite within the reach of every one of us to go on. One step at a time.
In 1981 Bill Broadhurst entered the Pepsi Challenge 10,000 meter race in Omaha Nebraska. Surgery ten years earlier for an aneurysm in the brain had left him paralyzed on the left side. Now on that misty July morning, he stands with 1200 other men and women at the starting line. The starter gun goes off and the crowd surges. Bill throws his stiff left leg forward, and pivots on it as his foot hits the ground. His slow plop, plop, plop seems like slow motion and a bit syncopated. Sweat rolls down his face, pain pierces his ankle, but he keeps going. Some of the runners finish in 30 minutes. Bill reaches the finish line in 2 hours and 29 minutes later. A man approaches him from a small group of bystanders. Though exhausted Bill recognizes the man from his picture in the newspaper. It is Bill Rodgers, the famous marathon runner, who then drapes his newly won medal around Bills’ neck. His finish was glorious not because of his time but because of his attitude…not because he ran it fast, but because he finished. If we are to finish well in our spiritual journey it will require frequent assessment of our attitudes.
We cast off the obstacles, we check our attitudes and lastly, we clarify Our Vision. It appears that casting off the obstacles and checking our attitudes requires a strategy. This strategy is a measure of our focus. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.”
This focus is a deliberate lifting of our eyes from everything else to solely focus on Jesus alone. Well, what do we focus on. We focus on his humanity. His willingness to trust God in his life. Jesus authored faith and trust. If we wish to live our journey with similar faith and trust…look carefully at his life. Focus on Christ. Secondly, focus on Christ’s attitude. It is interesting that the example this author gives very much resembles the Phil 2: 4-8 passage. Compare with Heb 12:2b. Part of clarifying our vision is looking to the example of Jesus in servanthood. And part of our example in endurance is looking to Jesus as he endured the wrongs of others. V.3.
He endured what those of faith will never endure. He actually endured sins’ wrath. Sins penalty. Those who have salvation in Jesus Christ are forgiven. Never to endure the wrath of God upon our sin, because it was borne by our Savior. The author appears to want us to focus on our victory. Not our defeats. Focus on the victor of our victories.
This focus in the text upon Christ is to be calculated and intense. This intensity that we give to Christ will carry us through our struggle and equip us to endure. The concept of focus is similar to the difference between a light bulb and a laser beam. Both are essentially light energy. But while we hold our hands in front of a light bulb without danger of being burned, there are laser beams that can burn through 18 inches of steel. The difference is focus. Our spiritual journey requires a vision that only comes from a focus on Christ. For he can do in us and through us what sin can only destroy in us.
In the book A Saviour for all Seasons, William Barker relates the story of a bishop from the east coast who decades ago paid a visit to a small mid-western religious college. He stayed at the home of the college president, who also served as professor of Physics and chemistry. After dinner, the bishop declared that the millennium couldn’t be far off, because just about everything about nature had been discovered and all inventions conceived. The young college president politely disagreed and said he felt there would be many more discoveries. When the angered bishop challenged the president to name just one such invention, the president replied that he was certain that within 50 years, men would be able to fly. Nonsense, said the bishop. Only angels are intended to fly. The bishops name was Wright. And he had 2 boys at home who would prove to have a greater vision than their father. Their names: Orville and Wilber.