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Turning Garbage Into Gold

On this day in 1987, a 210-foot barge named the Mobro 4000 began a strange voyage on the seas, searching for a place to dump over 3100 tons of garbage. The trash was generated by the Long Island city of Islip, but their overextended landfills couldn’t take in the refuse. Morehead City, N.C. agreed to receive the garbage as fuel for an experimental methane-conversion program. When a rumor spread that the garbage was infected with diapers and dirty needles, the state of North Carolina stepped in, refusing the media-named “Gar-barge.”     

Thus began an odd odyssey that took the Mobro down the Gulf of Mexico, where it was turned away in Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mexico and Belize. The event prompted environmental outcry and a call for responsible waste reduction. An official at the Environmental Protection Agency grimly warned of “a deluge of garbage.”

Finally, the captain headed back to New York. After months of political wrangling, the garbage was finally hauled to Brooklyn in October, where it was incinerated into 430 pounds of ash. The remains were buried in Islip, where the whole ordeal started.

The Mobro incident spurred towns across the U.S. to launch recycling programs. In 1988, less than 1000 communities had curbside pickup; today that number has jumped to approximately 9000 serving about half the national population. In addition, about 20,000 recycling centers have sprung up, where people can drop off their used materials.  

“Garbage” is the word the Apostle Paul chose to describe his pre-conversion righteousness—at least, that’s the sanitized translation in many Bibles. In the original Greek, Paul used the word “skubalon,” which literally means “dung.” He saw the surpassing greatness of Christ and realized the religious credentials he had earned on his own were fit only for the sewer.

Paul had a lot to lose, too. He wore his “Hebrew of Hebrews” badge with pride (Philippians 3:5). He was circumcised on the eighth day of his life according to the law of Moses. He made sure that people knew he was from the tribe of Benjamin, famed for their loyalty to the divinely-appointed line of King David. Perhaps most important to Paul was his membership in the Pharisees, those zealous guardians of God’s law. If there had been a trophy for religious legalism, Paul would be forced to carry his in a mule-drawn cart.

Yet, after his encounter with the Glorified Lord, he was willing to flush it all away. He had found something far more precious than religion: he had entered into a vibrant relationship with God, which opened the door to true righteousness, participation in the sufferings of Christ and a foretaste of resurrection power.

It is one thing to look upon our achievements with inner satisfaction and a peaceful sense of accomplishment, quietly giving glory to the Source of our gifts and blessings. It is quite another to sport our laurels in public, expecting accolades from mortals and divine goodies from God.  Our motive is the deciding factor that converts our works into gold or garbage.

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