The lack of playable yards in San Diego has sent our neighborhood clan of boys onto the cliffs, quite literally. A small series of strange forts dot the canyon behind an incredibly gracious neighbor’s house. Handmade flags with strange symbols mark out the three sets of siblings’ respective territories. There is an entire law and order system that the boys have agreed upon for their nation-state.
After declining to visit them in their fort world for weeks, I finally took the short but dangerous route to their little world. What I found was a true fort phenomenon.
Little human magpies, these boys had been gathering collections of shiny trash and decorating with discarded odds and ends. Each fort had its own design and decorum.
The children were not just enduring the trash, they were deeply proud of it to the point that they were gladly dwelling among it.
Along with great joy in this fort-building season of childhood and pride in their resourcefulness and creativity, I also experienced deep conviction of the rubbish-relishing tendencies of my soul.
I don’t live in a den of obvious iniquity or hedonism. Years of walking with the Lord have slowly conquered many of the blatant tendencies that are commonly acknowledged as rubbish in God’s sight. However, watching my boys settled so comfortably in their rubbish fort, I realized that there are dens of respectable sins that I not only live in but also find false identity and pride in.
Self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-pity, self-reliance: these are sins that are not only considered respectable but are largely rewarded and celebrated. Through deeply entrenched patterns of these self-sins, we construct comfortable identities and garner affection and attention.
These vices are often dressed up as virtue, and as such, they are most dangerous in the eyes of the Lord.
Just as I see the boys’ fort, the Lord sees my comfortable fort of respectable self-sins for what it really is: a place of relished rubbish. A scrap of self-reliance here, a sheet of smug self-righteousness there. I am comfortable here.
Regarding these self-sins, A.W. Tozer writes the following:
“They are not something we do, they are something we are…They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused on them.”
While my self-sins probably look like rubbish from the gutters, Paul’s self-sins must have looked like fancy, high-end discards. After all, the man had much to build a strong self-identity upon. However, after being literally blinded by the righteousness of Christ, the same holiness enabled him to see his life and his identity clearly for the first time: fancy, top-notch trash compared to the inestimable worth of Christ.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ. Philippians 4:7-9.
The unapproachable light of Christ out his soul’s fort into perspective by revealing that he had been relishing rubbish. While this happened in a moment, it also continued to happen in an ongoing manner for Paul, who in his own writing went from least of Apostles to least of saints to chief of sinners.
The more the searching light of the Holy Spirit shines on our identities, the more elaborate the rubbish rooms He will reveal. God graciously exposes our trash and the rubbish-relishing tendencies within us that He may replace them with the One true and lasting treasure.
Paul made it his life’s work to call others from trash to treasure.
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3.
How do we stop relishing rubbish? How are our hearts trained to treasure the One in whom is hidden all treasure?
We regularly expose our false forts to His searching eyes through he body of Christ, the Scriptures and the Spirit.
We regularly set before our eyes the Treasure, the great Gain, next to whom even our best self-sins are rubbish.
We beg God to soften our hearts when our trash looks and feels more comfortable and compatible than Him.
We look in faith to the day when we will fully live with Him and for Him and in Him on streets of gold.