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Carrying Out the Trash

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You know, there’s something humbling about being found out and encountering the truth. 

Several years ago, Jo and I were attending a weeklong youth conference in Liberty, MO at William Jewell College.  We’d been a part of that leadership team for several years so it was a week we were heavily invested in and one of the spiritual highlights of our year.

Jo had signed up to be a part of an adult leadership group, while I served with two of my best pastor friends, Gene Gibbons and Don Witzel.  We were leading a group of high school freshmen and sophomores.  The pace was non-stop and after a weekend of intensive training and team-building with the college leaders, we hit the ground running on Monday morning as buses and vans began to arrive filled with excited junior high and high school students. There were approximately 500 students plus leaders on campus so the place was buzzing with activity including lots of engaging worship, relevant teaching, intense times of prayer, recreation, and lots of loud noise.  It’s a known fact:  you can’t have teenagers and not have some serious noise. 

After our Tuesday morning session, the students headed to lunch.  A young freshman boy stayed after class waiting patiently to talk to us.  His stature was small and his voice hadn’t changed.  In fact, he looked like you could push him over with a leaf-blower.  Typically, kids that hung around wanted to know how we got into ministry, or if we would pray with them.  But as the freshman started to talk I noticed his eyes never looked up.  Motioning to Gene, Don, and I, he quietly asked, “Can I talk to you?”  It was just the four of us in the room. “Sure.  What’s up?”  His body language and quiet demeanor looked like someone who needed to apologize, but as he began to speak we realized this was not the case. “My roommate,” he stammered.  I don’t know him.”  He searched for words. “I mean, we were put in the same room together, but we’re not from the same church.  So, yesterday when I checked in, this guy I don’t know and I, well, we sorta ended up in the same dorm room.”  We explained that sometimes that happens and that if he would be patient and give it a day, we were certain it would be better. 

He shuffled his feet and took a deep breath.  You could tell there was more to the story than he was telling us “What’s bothering you; you seem troubled?” we asked. “I don’t know how to say this, but, my roommate has a blue footlocker with a padlock on it.  I wasn’t sure if I should say anything, I dunno, maybe I should just ignore it.”  He paused, then loudly blurted out, “The blue box is hidden under his bed and has some stuff in it that he’s not supposed to have!!”

“What do you mean ‘stuff in it’?”  There was a long pause.  “It’s not good,” he replied.  You could tell he was deeply troubled by what he had to say. “Last night . . . he opened the trunk . . . and showed me what’s inside.  Then he threatened me.  He said that if I told anyone he would hurt me.”  You could tell the kid was genuinely scared.

Over the next several minutes as the details became clear, we assured the freshman that would not be harmed; that he didn’t need to be afraid because he’d done the right thing, and there was no reason for him to go home.  We prayed with him and promised we would take care of the matter, and that God had a purpose in this.  Wiping away a tear he headed out the door.

Within fifteen minutes we were having a conversation with the bully who had threatened the freshman.  The blue trunk, now brought from the dorm room, sat padlocked in the middle of the floor.  “Open the trunk.”  The kid just stared at us.  “Open the trunk.”  Slowly, he dug in his pocket, pulled out a key and unlocked the trunk.  What was in it?  You know, after twenty-nine years of student ministry, I don’t think I’m naïve or stupid.  I think I’ve seen a lot.  But I must admit, I’d never seen anything like this before.  As the lid opened we tipped over the trunk and poured the contents on the floor.  Out spilled numerous porn videos, a small television, a DVD player, cables, and several knives.

You know, there’s something humbling about being found out and encountering the truth.

I can still remember the conversation with that young man.  It was just like it happened yesterday. Our talk was clear, Gospel-rich, and full of truth and grace.  We set some expectations in place for him that did not include sending him home, as we believed God wanted him there that week.   

As he left the room we bagged up the contents and put them in a trash bag, then headed out the door.  I remember throwing the trash bag over my shoulder and looking for a dumpster where we could dispose of the items.  Can I be completely honest?  I’m being very real here.  There was a sense of self-righteous indignation that rose up inside of me.  It wasn’t pretty.  In fact, it was downright ugly.  My self-righteous attitude said, “Yeah, we did it!  We took a wrong and made it right!  We’re going to get rid of this sinful trash!  I can’t believe someone would bring this kind of crap to a Christian camp.  What kind of idiot does that?!?!

As I walked to the car shouldering the trash bag, I remember hearing a whisper.  But, the whisper was as loud as a hurricane.  It was the Holy Spirit.  He said, “That black bag you’re carrying . . . that’s exactly what I did for you at the cross, Ted.  I gave my broken body, shed my blood, was beaten, carried the cross, was mocked and ridiculed for you, Ted.  I was wounded deeply, crucified shamefully, died with no mercy, and was buried in a borrowed tomb just so I could rise again to forgive you of all your stuff . . . the lies, the religious games, the pride, the competition, the hate and sin . . . hidden in your own ‘blue box.’ 

You know, there’s something humbling about being found out and encountering the truth.

At that moment, the weight of my sinfulness sank in.  My self-righteousness faded and I sensed the powerful, beautiful, precious, forgiving grace of Jesus covering me.  It’s the grace that looks beyond our fault and sees our need.  “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” – Romans 5:19

Thank you, Jesus.

Posted by Ted Burden with