Holding On To Spiritual Clutter
Something amazing happened yesterday that absolutely surprised me and filled me with indescribable joy. Some of the Worship Team came to remove the Chrismons from the tree in the sanctuary and to take down and put up all the decorations from the Advent Season. Down the hallway from the sanctuary is a series of storage closets with those louvered bi-fold doors. I had looked in them before and they were filled with a lot of stuff, I mean a LOT of STUFF. Now here is what surprised me and created a sense of euphoric joy.
The Worship Team leader asked me if they could clean up those closets, remove what we did not need and then organize it. Do you know what I did? I made the sign of the Cross over them, ordained them to the task (if I had a bottle of anointing oil I would have anointed them with oil) and blessed them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost! And they went to work sorting and determining what we actually use. Among the many items was an old metal box that we determined that at one time was the heart of the church phone system. There were a few coffee pots, some “made in China” bud vases covered in about 15 years of holy dust (it is a church you know), assorted sizes of nearly used-up candles, and a variety of items too numerous to list.
Some items were moved to a new storage location we call the dumpster. Other items were moved to the stage in the fellowship hall, neatly arranged. An announcement will be made for the next two Sundays inviting the folks to browse through those items to take home with them if they have any value to them, after which those items will be re-purposed at the local thrift store. Then they organized and stored the items we actually need and use. It was a beautiful sight to behold. As a pastor, it was one of those moments when God affirms to you that your work in the Lord is not in vain. But this morning it caused me to think.
How much spiritual clutter do we carry around with us that is either unnecessary or is no longer needed in our spiritual journey? Right now I am thinking about my Old Testament professor at Birmingham Southern College, Dr. Wells, God rest his soul. On top of his office desk were piles and piles of paper and in front of those piles was a sign I have never forgotten. It said: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what’s the sign of an empty desk?” I admit that most of the time my desk top is, well I won’t say cluttered, but I will say it’s “organized chaos”. I do know where to look when I need something, well, some of the time. And I am also realizing more frequently, that my “organized clutter desk top” is a sign that I am keeping spiritual clutter that needs to be gone.
Paul understood the tendency to hold on to things that were once thought to be important but no longer serve a useful purpose. Look carefully at Philippians 3:2:-14 from The Message
2-6 Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.
7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’srighteousness.
10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.
12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
Our life in Christ is a forward moving life. I love the way The Message renders verse 14: “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” But sometimes the Enemy tries to get us to hold on to some things that keep us from the onward movement with Jesus. For some it is old guilt; for others it is old fears; and for many it is old failures. The Enemy entraps them with all that “used to be” and lies to them by saying “that’s all there will be and it will always be that way.”
All of the trash and junk of sin was nailed to the Cross and onto Jesus. He bore all of that guilt, fear and failures. And because He carried it all the way to His grave God offers to set us free from all of it, I mean ALL of it. He makes this offer as a pure gift, absolute grace: You no longer have to carry it around! I am setting you free!” God liberates us and then declares us righteous, right with Him by giving to us all of the righteousness that is Jesus. It’s like trading in an old clunker of a car for a brand new car, a new car that has no payments to make because the price was paid in full for us. Just accept God’s gift, plain a simple.
But then there’s that “other” clutter we carry around sometimes. It’s like all that stuff stored in those closets. At one time they were useful and beneficial, but they have served their purpose. Something new and better has arrived on the scene. But sometimes we long for the comfort of the old and familiar rather than the fresh and new of the Holy Spirit. So like that old PBX system, we hold on to it just in case that new PBX system fails us. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the Enemy wants us to be more religious than righteous. And to be religious means we hold onto the old ways simply because they are the old ways. It can become like Paul warned young Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:5,
They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
Please do not misunderstand me and say things about me that simply are not true. I am not against the rich traditions of the Church. They are priceless reminders of the faithfulness of God and God’s promises to guide us into a new future with Him. But these rich traditions become spiritual clutter when they are no longer used as reminders of God’s faithful presence and His promises of a new future. When Jesus was talking about the New Covenant and true Kingdom of God He compares it with new wine. He summed up the New Covenant this way in Luke 5:38-39 and The Voice© puts it like this:
New demands new—new wine for new wineskins. Anyway, those who’ve never tasted the new wine won’t know what they’re missing; they’ll always say, “The old wine is good enough for me!”
“The old is good enough for me and it should be good enough for you!” Such are the words of those who have traded in their relationship with God for a religious attitude. It is easy to hold on to the past as if it will be enough. So we store it away and it collects dust. Dust collectors serve no useful purpose. I’m sure if there had been a committee there to decide what items were kept and what items were disposed by the Worship Team, some, if not most of those items would have been kept simply because “some day we might need them” or “we use to use them so keep them”. I read somewhere that if you haven’t worn an item of clothing in 2 years you need to get rid of it because if it’s been 2 years since you wore it why do you think anything will change?
Have you ever watched one of those shows about “hoarders”? It is both sickening and heartbreaking to see people surrounded by stuff that is stifling the life right out of them. It is even sadder when people who have been touched and transformed by the grace of God hold on to the old stuff rather than embrace the new movement of the Holy Spirit. I believe with all my heart that traditional means of worship is a powerful way to experience the presence and promises of God. But if we do it just because we’ve always done it that way, well it is simply stored clutter.
Not long after I had met our local Superintendent of Education he was sharing with me his dreams and vision for our local schools. It was bold and daring, and much-needed. He briefly lamented the fact that some were not seeing the vision. It was at that point the Spirit prompted me to share with him this enduring truth. I said, “Keith, do you know the 7 words of a dying church? These 7 words will also fit into any organization, even schools.” He asked me, “What are they?” I replied:
“We’ve never done it that way before!”
The clutter simply is a way to hide from the movement of God through the Holy Spirit. Is there spiritual clutter in your heart? In your mind? Things that are not helping you connect to the Presence and Promises of God? If we cannot connect to the Presence and the Promises, then we will never connect to the Power. Without the power we are just another religion, and Jesus did not die for another religion.
Love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him! Let’s pray:
Lord, I pray with all my heart Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” If I am a spiritual hoarder, help me see the clutter and especially help me allow YOU to take out whatever offends you. Amen and Amen!