Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Rusty Treasures

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 19, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The coarse grinder disc cut its way through layers of old body filler, creating a thick layer of dust on the floor. When the grinder disc made its way through all of the old filler down to the metal of the fender, large pockets of rust appeared. The bottom edge of the fender had rusted through leaving a large hole several inches in diameter.

There isn't a word in the old car hobby that is more dreaded than the word "rust.” It's the automotive equivalent to cancer. Rust is bad news. I knew that my little Rambler American had some rust bubbling through to the surface before I began to repaint it, but I was surprised by how extensive the rust was.

After driving the little Rambler almost three years, I decided to give it a fresh coat of paint. There were rust bubbles on the front fenders and the rocker panels. I knew that I would need to do some rust repair. What I didn’t realize was that sometime in the past there had been extensive rust repair on the little car that hid the extent of the problem. By the time that I had completed the repairs, I had to fabricate patch panels and even build a portion of the rocker panel from scratch.

Every old car enthusiast wants to find a car that is rust free, but it is rare to find a decades-old vehicle without signs of rust. Today’s cars are not nearly as rust prone as older vehicles. Manufacturers are using better pre-production treatments, more use of galvanized metals, aluminum, plastics and composites, and smarter design but, rust hasn’t quite been banished. In places where the roads are salted in the winter, the effect of that salt on cars is brutal. Anytime that you have unprotected metal surfaces, rust is inevitable.

As I was repairing the rust on my Rambler, I was reminded of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

Here Jesus tells us not to place too much value in the things of this world. If you treasure them as the most important things in your life, one day you will find yourself very disappointed when they are devalued, destroyed, or stolen. Is Jesus telling us that we should not have any possessions here in this world? Of course not. But he is telling us that treasures on earth are subject to being eaten, corroding or being stolen. Treasures in heaven are secure. They will remain.

What do you treasure? I enjoy my little Rambler. When I drive it, it brings a smile to my face. But rust had damaged the Rambler, and even though I have repaired the rust, it will eventually come back. Jesus is telling us that whatever we have here on this earth will not last. Even if our “treasure” consists of gemstones such as diamonds and rubies, and precious metals such as gold and silver that resist rusting, it isn’t secure. Even though it may resist corrosion very well, there is still the age-old problem of other people wanting those items without paying you for them. They break in and steal them.

We understand what treasures are here on earth, but what did Jesus mean by “treasures in heaven?” I have heard many preachers use this verse to tell me why I should give my money to the church. While that might be part of it, I’m quite certain that is not what Jesus had in mind. He wants us to use our time, energy and finances to pursue after those things that are of eternal value; Those things that will have value in heaven, not on earth.

 “Treasures in heaven” are things of worth in the kingdom of heaven, such as justice and respect for the dignity of every person. Jesus implies that we should invest our money in activities that transform the world, instead of accumulating earthly treasures. The Ten Commandments start with these words; “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3 (NKJV) When our heart is set on on the things of this earth, we are no longer serving God. We have put our treasures above God, and we are serving them. They have become our god and our life. Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves where our treasure is. If your treasure is on earth and the things of this world, your heart will be there as well. If your heart is focused on Jesus and on laying up treasures in heaven, your heart will be there.

Gentle Reader, the Bible says “set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2 (NKJV) Does this mean that Jesus wants us to be paupers? No, the Bible is also clear that God values hard work. “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” Proverbs 13:4 (NLT) So, how are we to understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate attention to “treasures on earth?” Jesus answers, “don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well.” Matthew 6:31-33(NCV) Remember that Ramblers rust, “but the word of the Lord endures forever.” 1 Peter 1:25 (NKJV)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Recital

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 12, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The country church was beautifully decorated for Christmas. There were Christmas trees, poinsettias, and a lovely nativity. One by one, Mrs. Bates’ piano students played the Christmas pieces they had prepared for the recital. From the simplest notes of Jolly Old St. Nicholas by the youngest student to a rousing duet version of Sleigh Ride by one of the students with Mrs. Bates, the sounds of Christmas filled the church.

My granddaughters, aged eight, eleven, and thirteen were among the students playing at the recital. They had been practicing their pieces for weeks. The girls performed beautifully. I asked them if they were nervous, but they said they weren’t. Even when there was a problem with the piano, they didn’t let it bother them but played through it.

As I listened to them and the other piano students, I remembered growing up and taking music lessons. I played the trumpet and was in the band. I didn’t mind practicing and could always learn to play my pieces correctly but when it was time for a performance my nerves would get the best of me. I have terrible memories of botched performances. Once I was scheduled to play a solo before a church area youth conference. While we were traveling to the town where the youth conference was being held, our car broke down. By the time repairs were made, we were late arriving. I was scheduled to play almost immediately. I was so unnerved that I could hardly make a sound with my trumpet. Failure in front of my peers was a devastating blow to my fragile teenage ego.

Have you ever found that something that you can do, have done, and have practiced many times, fails you when you are under pressure? For me, that was my trumpet. No matter how hard I practiced, I would often mess up when I was playing for my music teacher or in front of an audience. In our small school band, I played third chair trumpet. The first chair trumpet player thought it would be a good idea if on one of our pieces I would switch with him and play the first trumpet part. I practiced and practiced until I had the part perfect. We did the switch several times in practice, and the band director didn’t notice. When the night came for our public performance, we made the switch, and I played the part quite poorly. The band director was not happy!

My junior year of high school I transferred to a larger school and was too intimidated to try out for the band. I eventually stopped taking lessons, telling my parents that the pressure was too much. My trumpet sits forlornly in the garage. Now I can barely make a sound. Because I wasn’t willing to try to handle the pressure, I soon wasn’t able to play at all.

When they are under pressure, many people experience a loss of the ability to do what they can usually do. Why is that? When we are under pressure, our focus shifts from execution to the outcome. How we as Christians react under pressure says more about our faith and maturity in Jesus than anything else.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 (VOICE), Paul talks about being under intense pressure. “My brothers and sisters, we have to tell you that when we were in Asia, the troubles we faced were nearly more than we could handle. The burdens we bore nearly crushed us. Our strength dwindled to nothing. For a while, we weren’t sure we would make it through the whole ordeal. We thought we would have to serve out our death sentences right then and there. As a result, we realized that we could no longer rely on ourselves and that we must trust solely in God.” The only way that a Christian can handle the pressures of life is to trust solely in God instead of relying on ourselves.

I recently heard a story that I’m quite sure never actually happened, but I liked the application so I will share it with you. We will call it a parable.

A famous concert pianist was preparing for a show when a group of admirers came to the concert hall. A little boy was there with his mother. He wandered away from her and found himself on a stage with a grand piano.

Suddenly the curtains parted, and a spotlight lit the grand piano. The mother looked around for her son and saw him on stage sitting at the piano. He started playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” The concert pianist walked up to the boy, put his arms around him and began playing a counter medley as he whispered, “keep playing, you're doing great.” The audience was mesmerized as he played alongside the boy. When they finished, the audience rose in applause.

What we do for God in our strength is a lot like playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in a concert hall all by ourselves. For us to accomplish anything worthwhile for God, it is going to have to be with Him. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Gentle Reader, in the piano recital of life, God will sit down beside you and turn your music into something beautiful that will bring glory to Him. It is together with God, and only with God, that beautiful music is created.  Jesus tells us in John 15:4 (NCV), “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit alone but must remain in me.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Afraid of the Dark

An Arkie's Faith column from the December 5, 2018, issue of The Mena Star.

The young boy made his way through the kitchen, out the front door, and onto the screened in front porch. He hesitantly opened the screen door and crept out into the night. The path that was illuminated just hours before was now lost in the blackness of a moonless night. Fear gripped him as he carefully made his way to the outhouse at the end of the path.

When I was a young boy, my grandparents’ home didn’t have an indoor bathroom. The outhouse was interesting in the daytime because it was different than being at home, but on a dark night, it was creepy and a bit frightening. Darkness changes our perspective. Most children at one time or another experience the fear of the dark. And unlike most childhood fears, it’s one that plenty of people never outgrow.

According to Psychologist Thomas Ollendick, the director of the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech University, some fears are acquired based on specific life experiences; others are more universal and innate. Fear of darkness falls into that latter category. The reason: It’s not the darkness itself that’s frightening. It’s the fear of what the darkness masks. The dark leaves us vulnerable and exposed, unable to spot any threats that may be lurking nearby. For much of human history, dark meant danger, and fearing it meant taking precautions to stay safe. That’s not the case anymore — there’s not much to fear when we spend the darkest hours of the night tucked safely in our beds with a light switch nearby — but darkness has nevertheless held on to its place in our psyche as a manifestation of the terrifying unknown.

Darkness is scary because you can’t see. Once the lights are on, everything turns back to normal. The shadowy, life-threatening figures become normal, everyday objects. Your heart rate slows, and you are no longer hyperventilating. You can see again, and the world is normal once more. The Psalmist understood the connection between fear and darkness, but he also knew that God is greater than those fears. He wrote, “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness.” Psalms 91:5,6 (NIV) Darkness makes the world a scary place, but Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NKJV)

In the light of God’s love and grace and truth, we can find courage, help, and strength to overcome our fears. When he was talking to Nicodemus, Jesus explained it this way: “The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things. All who do evil hate the light and will not come to the light, because it will show all the evil things they do. But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God.” John 3:19-21 (NCV)

When Jesus came to this world, it was as if a light was switched on. Every one of us needs that light to shine into our lives. Recently, the lights turned on for me spiritually. I’d been in a dark period for a while. I had been taught that God gives us trials and therefore He must have caused the darkness that was consuming my life. People that I had loved and trusted had abandoned me. I incorrectly believed that if my life was difficult, that it must be God’s will. I had been taught that trials bring us closer to God, so I should be thankful. But I wasn’t thankful; I was angry and bitter. I was in darkness, and I was afraid for what the future would bring. Then a light switched on when I read Jeremiah 29:11 (NCV), where God says, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.”

A light turned on, and now I could see, and over time it’s become even clearer. I have come to realize that God never intended for evil to happen and He has a plan to wipe it out. Instead of causing my suffering and trials, Jesus takes them on Himself. In 1 Peter 5:6,7 (NKJV) we are told to “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Looking at what Jesus did for me on the cross and realizing that He has good plans for me changed my perspective. Knowing that He wanted me to cast my cares upon Him was like a turning on a light switch. Realizing that He wasn’t the cause of my trials and troubles, brought light back into my life.

Gentle Reader, if you are living in fear and darkness, God wants to light up your world. “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NET) Turn the lights on with the flip of a switch, and maybe you’ll find yourself saying with Paul, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2 (NKJV).