Category Archives: Garbage Day Devos

GARBAGE DAY 1 – Got Junk?

The following Lenten reflections come from a chapter entitled “Garbage Day” from an unpublished devotional book of mine exploring the deeper realities of faith through the daily routines of life (read more about my “Sacred Analogies”).  This chapter explores the reality of the spiritual garbage (i.e., sin) in our souls and why we need to regularly take out the trash.  This is a fitting topic for the season of Lent.  Please enjoy!  JB

honda-element-in-the-1-800-got-junk-wrappingOne man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” as the old adage goes.  The saying has taken on a whole new meaning for Brian Scudamore, founder and owner of the multi-million dollar business 1-800-GOT-JUNK?  In 1989, Scudamore dropped out of his last year of college to start his junk removal business with only $700 and an old beat up truck.  A decade and a half later, the company expects to reach 250 franchise partners and profit $100 million by December 31, 2006.  Only in a society as affluent and wasteful as America can a person make millions hauling away others’ unwanted garbage! The amount of personal waste is quite mind-boggling. Take San Francisco for example.  California’s Integrated Waste Management Board reports that the average San Francisco resident generates 2 pounds of garbage per day.  When you add in business waste the number increases to 7 pounds of garbage per person per day. That’s a whole lot of nothing!  Dumpsters in America reach their peak capacity during the Holiday season.  Lisa Margonelli paints a picture of the super-abundance of trash this time of year:

January is a busy month for junk.  Start with the 38,000 miles of ribbon Americans use during December and work your way back.  There’s 25 million tons of extra holiday garbage, including turkey carcasses, cardboard FedEx boxes and enough Christmas cards to fill a football field 10 stories high.  And there are all the new gifts that need somewhere to go, so the old ones must be removed.

Clearing out the old to make room for the new.  That’s the name of the game.  What spiritual insight can be gained by sorting through life’s trash?  

THE JOB NOBODY WANTS

Getting the mail is a walk in the park compared to the drudgery of taking out the trash.  It smells.  Trash bags rip and spill the week’s refuse all over the floor.  Even worse, sometimes a small leak allows garbage juice to ooze down your leg as you scurry toward the door.  You walk to the dumpster and lift the lid, almost collapsing from the smell.  You toss the bag over the side, wipe your hands, and gratefully walk away from the most thankless of household chores. the-persistence-of-garbage-giant-ginkgGarbage-we all have it.  It is a necessary by-product of life.  Things get used and things go to waste.  We have to keep a check on the waste in our lives or things can pile up.  The garbage truck comes once a week and hauls all of our rubbish away.  Yet, forget to put it out some week and soon you have a problem.  Smelly bags begin to pile up in the garage until the entire house begins to smell. Few ordinary tasks of life “stink” as much as taking out the garbage.  But, much like waking up, getting dressed, driving the car and getting the mail, garbage duty is an indispensable part of life.  Nobody enjoys doing it, but nobody can avoid it-at least for too long! The life of Christian discipleship is “littered” (forgive the pun) with its own challenges in waste management.  So, what can taking out the garbage teach us about Christian discipleship?  Stay tuned…

NEXT: “The God Who Recycles”

Read FULL SERIES

When to Use the “S” Word

LENTEN REFLECTION SERIES

The ancient Christian season of Lent is a 40-day journey leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Traditionally, Christians have observed this 40-day season through intentional self-examination and repentance, demonstrated by self-denial and fasting.  I would like to spend this Lent by a series of reflections on the theme of sin and repentance, including excerpts from a chapter in an unpublished book “Everyday Faith” on the topic of “Waste Management.”  I invite you to join me on this 40-day journey!   

I often avoid the “S” word.  And I’m a pastor.  The “S” word has always bothered me — not nearly as much as the “S” abiding in me and constantly ensnaring me.  Before you pick up stones or label me a heretic or a liberal, let me tell you why I often avoid using the “S” word.

911Have you ever heard someone outside the Christian subculture mention “sin” in their everyday vernacular?  I didn’t think so.  The only place you’ll hear the “S” word is within the church walls, a pastor’s sermon, a hymn, Christian book or in conversation with a fellow believer.  Now, some will immediately conclude that people just don’t want to face up to the reality of “S” in their life and in the world, and that’s why there is no talk of “S”.  But not so fast.  While many do indeed hide behind masks of self righteousness and live in constant denial “S” and the existence of God, does this therefore mean most unbelievers have no concept of the reality of “S”?

I believe the unbelieving world is all too familiar with the reality of “S” but they choose to use other words to describe it.  They might say the world is filled with brokenness and disharmony.  Things are messed up, shattered, skewed, marred, whacked and badly bent out of shape. People hurt other people.  The world is a breeding ground for inequality, oppression and all kinds of injustice. As a human race we are deeply sick and dysfunctional at the core of our being.   The “S” word carries a lot of religious baggage – both good and bad – and many simply don’t want to be associated with all of it.  I happen to be one of them.

As a communicator of the gospel and a teacher of God’s Word I believe I have a responsibility to carefully choose words that will most effectively teach the core truths of the Christian faith to my audience.  This means constantly translating the meaning of Scripture into the everyday language of the culture we are part of.  Are we being wise stewards of God’s Word if we continue to use lightning-rod, religiously loaded and culturally offensive words to speak about something so common to us all?  Should we not find more contemporary expressions of this timeless reality to more effectively get our message across to culture suspicious of religious judgmentalism?

“But ‘Sin’ is timeless, and people need to face their sin,” you may interject.  Others will retort, “Sin is supposed to be an offensive topic; it is our offense against God that we should be worried about!” True enough.  But we’re not preaching to the choir here.  We’re talking to people who deny God’s existence and who, therefore, don’t believe the most offensive thing is offending God but rather having the gaul to impose one’s religion on another.

The reason why this matters to me is that I still believe that the best place to find initial common ground with a anti-religious skeptic is to start by observing our common human condition.  We both can agree that the human race is capable of high levels of greatness, love, compassion, creativity and goodness.  Yet, we can also both clearly see that something seems to have gone seriously wrong in the world.  Abuse, injustice, oppression, genocide, slavery, etc. all bear vivid witness to the truthfulness of the Bible’s description of reality.  In short, we both believe “S” is part of the problem — even if they call it by another name.  Now I’m one step closer to sharing the Bible’s solution.

So, I rarely use the “S” word in my preaching and conversations.  But make no mistake.  I’m not a closet liberal going soft on sin.  Neither am I trying to dance cleverly around the serious reality of “S.”  I believe in sin.  I am the chief of sinners myself.  “We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  I believe that my sin separates me from God.  I believe that “He who had no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor).  I believe that Jesus paid my penalty of sin, dying on the cross to take away the sins of the world.  And, each morning I take God at his gracious promise that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John).  Robed in the righteousness of Christ I now stand, and “as far as the east is from the west, that’s how far God has removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 102).

Now how can we BEST communicate this good news to others?

GARBAGE DAY 11 – Locked From The Inside (Hell 3)

hell1Now for a second key point to Jesus’s “cosmic landfill” image of Hell.

We should not speak of eternal damnation as something God imposes on us against our will, as if we had no choice in the matter. Jesus has taken our trash upon himself, his offer of forgiveness is always before us and he longs to sink our deepest sin to the bottom of the sea (Micah 7:19).   The first Adam regarded equality with God something to be grasped and chased after (Gen 3:5-6; cf. Phil 2:6), but the last Adam has shown us once and for all what the truly human life looks like.

All who insist on continuing to live in their own filthy mess will ultimately find themselves right at home—in the garbage heap of misplaced desires that could never satisfy and misappropriated power that we were never meant to possess.  Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Paul’s words describes the sad affair:

What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So God said, in effect, “If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.” It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out (Rom 1:21-24 MSG). 

Paul’s sad commentary on the human condition supports C. S. Lewis’ famous assertion in The Problem of Pain that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside” and the damned ultimately “enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded” (114).  God eventually  “gives them over” to the wasted life they desired (Rom 1:24-28).  God doesn’t drive a person out of his loving presence.  Rather, stubborn men and woman spend their entire lives walking away from Him until they finally rid themselves of Him—to their own eternal demise. And like Jesus weeping over a rebellious Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), we can be sure that God weeps over every self-enslaved sinner who walks ever closer to the pigpen.

But there is always hope.  Like the prodigal eating with the pigs, we too can come to our senses and return to the Father’s arms (Luke 15:17-24).  From rags to riches—it’s the central theme of the gospel. God specializes in turning garbage into glory.   Transforming sinners into saints is the name of the gospel game.   It’s the theme of God’s redemption song!

***This concludes my 11-part “Garbage Day” Lenten series.  Thanks for reading!

GARBAGE DAY 10 – Scissors That Won’t Cut (Hell 2)

What then does Jesus’ graphic allusion to Jerusalem’s garbage dump tell us about the nature of hell?

First, as we have already discovered, each person has been created for the common purpose of bringing glory and praise to the ist2_5568108-old-rusty-scissors2Creator.  We were made to be showcases of God’s majesty.  We fulfill this role whenever we live in tune with our intended design.  We are most human when we are most freely letting our lives be used for purposes that bring honor and glory the architect who made us.

But when we repeatedly refuse to live out our created purpose of being God’s image-bearers and letting our lives bring Him glory we become more and more like a toaster that doesn’t toast, a furnace that doesn’t heat, a light that doesn’t shine, or wheel that doesn’t turn.  We become quite literally unfit for life in God’s world.  Not irredeemably so; not insignificant or unloved by the creator; but for the moment we are, like a scissors that won’t cut, fit for the trash.

Regardless of what you may have heard, Hell is not some arbitrary spiritual realm underground where “bad people” go merely because they broke some moral code of law.  Hell isn’t the invention of man or society to threaten and manipulate people into their proper roles and behavior.

Hell is rather the realm of wasted lives where those who continually refused to live out their created function of showcasing God’s glory finally end up.  It’s a place for broken toasters, not cigarette smokers.  When God’s cosmic recycling project is completed and all humanity is finally restored to their original purpose of tending the earth and worshiping the Creator (Gen 2:15), there will be no place for those unwilling to live in tune with their created design.

NEXT: “Hell is Locked From the Inside”

GARBAGE DAY 9 – God’s Cosmic Landfill (One Hell of a Mess)

Earlier I mentioned the unpopularity of the topic of repentance both inside and outside the church today.  An even more hair-raising, gut-wrenching topic, offering a greater challenge to our culture’s sensibilities is the idea that an all-loving, all-merciful God would send people to some hell for all eternity.  Shall we pour a cup of coffee and talk about Hell for a moment?

How can a merciful God possible allow people to be tortured landfillindefinitely in the fires of hell?  It may be helpful to come at this issue with a greater understanding of the metaphor the New Testament uses to describe the nature of hell.

In the New Testament, the Greek word usually translated “hell” is Gehenna, which itself comes from the Hebrew phrase meaning “the Valley of Hinnom.”  In the Old Testament, this valley located just southwest of Jerusalem, was the place where the Canaanites worshiped the gods Baal and Molech by sacrificing their children in a fire that burned continuously.  In Jesus’ day the valley of Hinnom was literally the garbage dump of Jerusalem.  All of the filth and garbage of the city was thrown into this landfill.  Animal carcasses and executed criminals alike were left to be consumed by the fire that constantly burned or eaten by maggots.   Hence, it was quite literally a place where “their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched” (Mk 9:48).

When Jesus speaks of the abode of the lost, describing those who reject God’s offer of salvation, he draws from the imagery of this well known garbage dump.  Why did Jesus choose this particular image to describe the eternal abode of the damned?  What, if anything, does this tell us about the real nature of hell?  Stay tuned.

NEXT: “A Scissors That Won’t Cut”

GARBAGE DAY 8 – Rummage Sale for the Soul

Are we willing to let go of certain things we love in order to gain something of even greater value?  This is the whole concept behind a rummage sale, is it not?  Clear out the old, unused clutter to make room for newer, better things?  The Apostle Paul was faced with the same question, and made his decision abundantly clear:

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 (Phil 3:8 MSG).  

rummagecPaul made a clean sweep of everything hindering his growth in the grace and knowledge of his Lord Jesus — he “dumped it all in the trash.”  In his words, “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” (Phil 3:10 MSG).  Paul, a former religious packrat, finally had a garage sale and sold it all!

We need to first empty our hands of lesser things if we are going to be able to receive God’s greater blessings.  We need to rid ourselves of spiritual clutter if we are going to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” and how to “live freely and lightly” (Matt 11:29-30 MSG).  We need to follow Paul, dumping it all in the trash in order to fully embrace Christ and his calling on our life.

So, have a rummage sale of the soul, and begin clearing out those distractions that are hindering you from experiencing God’s fullness in your daily life!

NEXT: “One Hell of a Mess”

GARBAGE DAY 7 – Boasting in our Busyness

If we take a quick glance at the lifestyles of Christians in America today, they are hardly distinguishable from those who don’t know God.  We are a church of Marthas, fussing about in our own respective kitchens.  But Jesus invites us to clear away the clutter and find time and space to sit at his feet along with Mary (Luke 10:38-42).

Herein lies the key difference between spiritual garbage and spiritual clutter.  Sin is widely recognized as a spiritual problem needing to be confronted and addressed.  Excessive ‘busyness’, on the other hand, is rarely viewed as a spiritual weakness.  In fact, busyness is often admired as a sign of strength, health and importance.  How often do we look at another person and remark, “Wow, they are so active and involved!”  We applaud the overly stressed, and admire the over-committed.  We rarely recognize spiritual clutter as a hostile force impeding spiritual transformation and reducing the forward movement of God’s kingdom on earth.  In fact, many (dare I say most?) leaders in the church actually suffer from the debilitating effects of chronic excessive busyness to some degree.  I know I fall into this trap.  The very place where God’s peace is meant to freely flow to tired and weary souls is itself feeding the problem, generating it’s own type of spiritual clutter and stress.  What are we to do?

Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and weak, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  The church—Christ’s body here on earth—needs to clean house before it can begin to resemble his clutter-free lifestyle.  In the Gospels we often find Jesus clearing a path through his own busyness, setting aside time alone with God.  “Jesus himself frequently withdrew to a quiet place to pray” (Luke 5:16).  One such night the disciples hunted Jesus down and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”  Rather than buckling under the pressure and bending toward their needs, Jesus kept his focus on the kingdom task at hand, saying, “Let’s go to the rest of the villages so I can preach there also. This is why I’ve come” (Mark 1:35-38).

Jesus was single-mindedly committed to the task at hand.  He prioritized his time and simplified his life in order to faithfully fulfill his kingdom mission.  Are we willing to follow in his footsteps, even if it means ridding ourselves of some of the distractions—even worthwhile and well-loved distractions?

NEXT: “Rummage Sale of the Soul”

GARBAGE DAY 6 – Spiritual Clutter

While continuously ridding our lives of sin’s toxic presence is of central importance, there is another type of spiritual waste that needs to be kept at bay.  I call it spiritual clutter.  If spiritual garbage represents the sin polluting our lives, spiritual clutter represents the numerous distractions that constantly compete for our immediate attention, drawing our focus away from God’s kingdom purposes.

clutterWebster defines clutter as: (1) v. “to fill or cover something (e.g., one’s life) with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness;” and (2) n. “interfering echoes visible on a radar screen caused by reflection from objects other than the target.”  Let us take each of these in order.

Life often feels like a circus of various attractions.  Each day is filled with innumerable tasks and responsibilities that call out to us like hecklers at a game booth.  They beg us to pay the buck and toss the ball at the weighted milk bottles.  Like a coat of arms, we wear each responsibility on our sleeves with great pride, either boasting or complaining to others of our full plate.  The more activities we are involved in, the more respect we expect from others.

We are soccer moms running multiple kids to multiple sports and activities.  We are Boy Scout leaders, little league coaches, and small group leaders at church.  We hold memberships at the health club, country club and gun club.  A typical day involves a hectic commute, several  important conference calls, a lunch date with the CEO, an oil change and haircut on the way home followed by an evening Bible study after you grab supper and mow the lawn!  Did I mention your wife is sick in bed and unable prepare dinner and drive the kids to their own evening activities?

Into this scattered and disordered life come the lazor-focused, unbending words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and he will provide you with all of these other things” (Matt 6:33).  As if this wasn’t challenging enough, he adds a further consideration: “People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these [other] things, but you know both God and how he works” (v. 34).  The central point is that kingdom people are called to a single-minded, uninhibited pursuit of the things of God.  We are called to faithfully and intentionally reprioritize and simplify our lives.  When we do, we should look different than the rest of the world who “fuss over these things.”  But do we?

NEXT: “Boasting In Our Busyness”