Treasure in the Dumpster

I usually punch the snooze button on my alarm once—maybe twice. Okay.  Three times.

Not today.

The noises outside my second-story window had been going for awhile.  You know how sounds creep into your slumber, disturbing your dreams, especially in the moments just before the alarm begins to sound.

 As I reached for the alarm button, a clatter from the dumpster reached my ear.  

I got up.

I stood at my upstairs bedroom window and watched the shirtless man for some time.  The dumpster had been almost full—or so I had thought.

He had stirred through the entire container, moving the larger items from the top to the bottom and around the sides.  By the time I was aware of his presence, he was standing on the bottom of the dumpster, just like Moses in the middle of the Red Sea, with the mountains of debris piled up on either side.

Items (my trash!) he wanted to keep were carefully balanced around the edges of the steel container.

I decided I wouldn’t interfere with the man’s treasure hunt.  I hadn’t wanted the items.  Why should I keep him from taking whatever he thought he could use or profit from?

Treasures from trash.  

The concept hasn’t left my head all day.

Trash.  Treasures.

It’s nothing new.  We don’t even have to say the entire maxim and most will finish the thought.  One man’s trash. . .

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

The underlying premise is that one is no better than the other. 

I have no intention of demeaning the homeless man foraging in my dumpster.  He is doing what he knows to do to provide for himself.

Additionally, I have no desire to point a finger at any person, comparing them to others for the reader to make a judgment of character.

It’s just that I know something of dumpster diving.  

I don’t know quite how to put it.  Well, yes, I do.  It won’t make some people happy. 

The truth is like that.

I know two things about looking for treasures in the trash bin:

1.  Even if useful items may sometimes be found in the trash, most of the time, there’s nothing but trash to be found.

2.  If one digs for treasures in the trash long enough, eventually that person begins to forget that it’s trash they’re digging through.  

It will most likely become evident soon—if it hasn’t already occurred to the reader—that I’m not really that concerned with dumpsters and the practice of digging through the ubiquitous receptacles.

There are some who spend their lives dredging through the garbage.  Their lives and hearts are filled with the stench.

And still, they dive in.

A friend, many years ago, regaled me with the story of his sister-in-law and her experience at the local casino.  

The first time—the very first time—she entered the casino, against her better judgment and at the urging of her friends, she won a large sum of money while gambling.  

Willingly, eagerly, she returned to the gaudy, glitzy place again and again, certain she would find treasure once more at its tables.  She never did.  Even if she had, the losses could never have been surpassed by her gains.

There was never treasure to be found there—never more than false promises and empty hopes.

Still trash.

As to the second point, I can’t help but think of the Tolkien character of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  He had lived in the dark and stinking places of the world for so long that when he, starving and weak, was offered the delicate cake of the elves’ lembas, he choked on it and called it ashes.


As I write this, in the wee hours of the night, the sun will be rising soon on another Independence Day in the United States.  I’m saddened by what I see in the hearts of many in our country, even in my little town, and I have to wonder, what do we have to celebrate this July 4th?  

We, and I include most folks I know—Christians and otherwise, liberals and conservatives, politically active and indifferent—seem to revel in the trash pile.  We delight in all that is negative and hateful, dredging it up again and again, in whatever form we find it in the garbage container, only to throw it in the faces of our used-to-be friends and acquaintances.

It almost seems we believe this is how we were meant to live.

It wasn’t.

It isn’t.

In our interactions with others, we must—absolutely must—rise above the garbage and restore community.  If we don’t, our country is lost, I fear.

And yet, there is an even more essential element to this conversation.

The Teacher,  imploring His followers to set their affections on more important things, warned against the garbage.  

Where the source of your treasure is located, your heart by nature will turn to.  (Matthew 6:21)

If we do things the way we’ve always done them, the result will always be the same.  

Every time.

Soon after that astounding Day of Pentecost, the disciples Peter and John were going to the temple to worship.  A lame man sat there, in the place he had sat every day for as long as he could remember.  It was all he knew, this detestable begging for his living.  And yet, as the two men passed him, he looked at them, expecting nothing more than a few pennies to extend his unhappy misery an hour or two more.

Peter looked at him and said, “It’s time you stopped dumpster diving.”

Well, that’s not really what he said.  What he told the lame man was that they had no money.  I assume the disappointed man would have turned his eyes toward the next party approaching.  Well? He wasn’t going to get what he needed here.  Why shouldn’t he?

We have no silver, nor do we have any gold.  Here’s the thing:  What we do have, we’re going to give to you.  Get up.  Walk with us into the temple to worship.  (Acts 3:6)

You know, there’s no treasure in any dumpster worth more than what God offers every single one of us.

His Grace and mercy will lift us out of whatever garbage receptacle we’ve been digging through to find our worth.

His love reaches down right where we’re searching, whether ankle deep or neck deep in refuse.

He sets us in higher places.

He sets us in higher places. Click To Tweet


It’s time to stop hoarding trash that looks like treasure to us.

It’s time to begin storing away the real thing.

In a place it will be safe.

In a place where we’ll be safe.

It’s time.



I lived through the garbage.  I might as well dine on caviar.
(Beverly Sills ~ American opera singer ~ 1929-2007)


Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:2, 8-9 ~ NLT)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Treasure in the Dumpster

  1. As I used to tell my children, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
    May we cease floundering around in refuse and seek first the treasure of God’s kingdom. It truly is the only way we will survive as this nation of freedom.
    Blessings, Paul, and Happy Fourth!

  2. Wow, Paul. That took a different approach than what I thought you’d take. When I first saw the headline, I thought of Christ and His redemption for all mankind. He did some major “dumpster diving” to pull us out, restore us and make us His treasure. After all, Isaiah 64:6 states OUR righteousness is as filthy rags. Christ took us out of our righteousness and positioned believers in HIS righteousness. A true trash to treasure treatment.

    Like I said, I was expecting a different post than what I read. But your point is very well made. It is true that by staying in the dumpster, we start missing the great things out of the dumpster. It’s only through Christ that we can overcome our searching through filth.

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