Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Dirty Hands

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 23, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

When people meet me, one of the first things that they notice are my hands. My hands are usually stained and look dirty. My job is installing windshields. Most windshields today are bonded to the vehicle with urethane designed specifically for auto glass installation. I use a high viscosity black urethane. Urethane is thick and sticky and bonds to almost anything. If it comes in contact with your hands or your clothes, it is difficult to remove, and it will stain.

When I was fairly new to the business, I was talking to a long time technician and asked him if he had any secrets for removing urethane from his hands. He said, “Point your hand north, then south. Then wait a week, and I promise the stain will be gone. This is the only method that works. I'll recommend it to anyone.” In other words, only time will wear it off. Over the years I have had many people recommend products to me that they were sure would remove the stains from my hands. None of them work.

One day a customer was watching while I was installing his windshield. The urethane that I was using seemed irresistible. He just had to touch it. He got some of the urethane on his hand. He didn't want me to know he had touched it. I noticed he was quietly rubbing on his hand with a shop towel. If you try to wipe urethane off, all it does is smear and make a bigger mess. When I noticed his problem, I offered him some solvent that helps clean the urethane up. He said, “No thanks, I don’t need any.”

As I worked, I noticed him continuing to try to clean up. By this time he had gotten the urethane on both of his hands and had also gotten it on his coat. Urethane doesn't come out of clothes. Finally, after observing his attempts to clean himself up and seeing how big a mess he was making, I just got a shop towel and soaked it in solvent and gave it to him. By trying to clean it up himself, he had made a monumental mess. Have you ever made a big mess of your life by trying to clean things up yourself? I know I have.

As silly as it seems, there are many Christians who have the same attitude as the man in this story. Their hands are dirty and stained with sin, and yet when offered God’s saving grace they say, “no thanks, I don’t need any.” They try and try to clean themselves up. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23 (NKJV), “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Even though the consequences of having hands stained with sin are so clearly stated, some Christians feel that they can clean themselves up by their works. Isaiah 64:6 (NLT) tells us that “when we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” Why would we try to clean ourselves up when Jesus has promised to forgive us and clean us up? Why would we ever think that we would have the ability to make ourselves clean?

King David when he was confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan admitted that his hands were dirty. In 2 Samuel 12:13 (NLT) the Bible tells us, “Then David confessed to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.’”

After this experience, David wrote the 51st Psalm. In it, he repeatedly talked about God’s cleansing. Verse 2 (NKJV), “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Verse 7 (NIV) “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Verse 10 (NKJV) “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” David knew that he couldn’t clean himself up. He knew that only God could wash him and cleanse him. Only God could create a new heart in him.

When the Bible talks about our heart, it isn’t referring to the muscle that pumps blood through our body. It is referring to someone’s inner, center self which is the most basic part of who they are. And that’s why the heart is important. It’s the truest part of ourselves, which is why the Bible uses language like “from the heart” and “take it to heart” and “with all your heart.” In Matthew 22:37 (NKJV) Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

Your heart is the essence of who you are, and David knew that his heart was dirty. He knew that he couldn’t clean it up himself. His plea to God was, “Create in me a clean heart.” He knew that to be able to “love the Lord your God with all your heart,” he would need a new, clean heart.

Gentle Reader, 1 John 1:9 (NKJV) tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We can trust God to clean us up. Our job is to admit that we have dirty hands and that we can’t clean them ourselves. Jesus has offered to forgive us of our sin, no matter what it is, and He has promised to clean us up. Let’s take him at his word. We don’t have to have dirty hearts or dirty hands.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Gift for a King

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 16, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The young girl eagerly tore the wrapping paper as she anticipated what was inside such a large box. She had noticed this present the moment she walked into Grandma’s living room and saw that one present under the tree was larger than all the rest. When she looked at the present, it had her name on it! She was so excited that she could hardly wait for Christmas morning.

When the paper was finally off the large box, and she was able to open it with the help of Daddy’s knife, her eyes lit up as she saw a barn and stable for her Spirit Riding Free horses. The box included a barn, fences, a wheelbarrow, stables with working lights, grooming tools, treats, and a real water pump with a hose. Grandma was happy that she seemed to like the gift. When we give gifts, we hope that the recipients will like them. We spend a lot of money and time finding the right gifts for people that are important in our life. Did you give any great gifts this year?

One Christmas when my son was a young boy, we nearly ruined his Christmas with one of his gifts. One of his jobs was sweeping the kitchen floor. That Christmas we bought a stick vacuum cleaner and thought it would be funny to give to him as a gift. The vacuum, wrapped in beautiful paper, was the largest gift under the tree. When my son saw that the largest gift had his name on it, he was very excited. His imagination went wild. What could that present be? His whole Christmas revolved around the largest gift under the tree and speculating on what it could be. When Christmas morning arrived, all he could think about was that gift. When he opened it, he was so disappointed that the rest of his Christmas presents couldn't make up for the vacuum cleaner fiasco.

Did you have a difficult time choosing gifts for your friends or family this Christmas? Sometimes it can be hard to find just the right gift. Finding great gifts isn't just a twenty-first century Christmas problem. In the eighth century, a monk named Alcuin was wondering what to get King Charlemagne for Christmas.

Around 780, Charlemagne asked Alcuin to join his court in Francia. One year at Christmas, Alcuin wrote a letter to the king. The monk was afraid that his wealthier rivals would overshadow him at court. They had the money to buy the king expensive presents. Alcuin wrote: “I have long wondered what I might think a worthy gift to do honor to your imperial power and add to the riches of your treasury.” He went on to say that he was presenting to the king, “a gift of the Scriptures which are written with the pen of heavenly grace.”

When Alcuin wrote to Charlemagne to tell him of his Christmas gift, he said that a student of his, Nathanael, would deliver the gift. Alcuin sent Nathanael to Charlemagne’s court with the instruction, “Give my Lord my letter and my gift of the scriptures on Christmas Day with the greeting of peace.”

A beautifully decorated tenth-century copy of Alcuin’s letters records the story of this Christmas gift. The manuscript is a part of Lambeth Palace Library. Imagine how hard it was for a poor monk to come up with a suitable gift for the king. He knew from reading the scriptures that “a gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.” Proverbs 18:16 (NIV)

It is fun to give gifts but deciding on the proper gift for someone can be difficult. I have never needed to give a gift to a king, but I often struggle with coming up with good gift ideas for my wife. Receiving gifts can be fun. It’s especially nice when the person giving the gift knows you well enough to know what you need and the things that you like. A good gift fits your personality.

When Jesus was giving the sermon on the mount, he said, “if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11 (NLT) Even though we sometimes struggle with knowing what gifts to give others, God always knows the best gifts to give us. He knows what we need and can use, and he wraps up his gifts with love. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NKJV) Now that is an awesome gift!

Gentle Reader, at times we as humans use our gift giving to try and gain favor with someone. But God is not trying to buy our favor or our love. He gives to us freely because he loves us, knows us, and knows our needs. He knows that we all need the gift of grace. We all need forgiveness. We all need to have the penalty paid for our sins. We need the gift of God; eternal life through Jesus. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV) Don’t be too proud to accept the gift. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NLT) “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Icy Promises

An Arkie's Faith column from the January 2, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The cold Kansas winter wind blew as the young boy walked down the icy country road. The gravel road was coated in sleet and ice. “Be careful, Bobby,” Daddy said, “you don’t want to slip and fall like I just did.” “Yes, Daddy,” Bobby answered. They had already been walking for more than a mile, and still had several more to go. Bobby had never seen a road that was so slick. The day before, there had been several inches of sleet, followed by heavy freezing rain. The ice coated everything making it impossible to travel the country roads by car.

Earlier that morning, Daddy had said, “Bobby, why don’t you come with me to take care of the neighbor’s cattle.” Daddy had promised the neighbor that he would feed the cattle while the neighbor had to be out of town for a few days. He hadn’t gone to feed the cattle the day before because of the ice storm, and he knew that the cows would be hungry. “We can’t take the Model A, it’s frozen solid, and the roads are too slick,” Daddy said, “we will have to walk.” “But the neighbor's house is five miles from here,” Bobby said. “Yes,” Daddy answered, “but I promised that I would take care of the cattle so if the only way that we can get there is by walking, then we will have to walk.”

Along the country road on the way to the neighbors’ house, there were several long steep grades. Daddy and Bobby struggled to make it up the slippery slopes, and Daddy fell multiple times. “How long will it take us to get there,” Bobby asked. “However long it takes,” Daddy answered, “I promised that I would take care of the cattle and I must keep my word no matter how bad the conditions are or how long it takes.” Bobby put his hands in his pockets to warm them up as they continued walking down the icy road.

After walking for three and a half miles, Daddy and Bobby came to the state highway. As they were walking down the highway, a truck came by spreading sand on the road. The driver stopped and asked where they were going. Daddy told him that they were heading to the neighbor’s house about a mile and a half on down the highway. “Hop in and get warmed up,” the driver said, “ride with me while I’m sanding the road and I will take you there.” Bobby was happy to crawl up into the cab of the truck and sit between the driver and Daddy.

When they reached the neighbor’s house, the truck stopped, and Daddy and Bobby crawled down out of the truck. “Thank you so much,” Daddy told the driver as they waved goodbye. Bobby gave grain to the cattle and Daddy pitched hay. The cows were very happy to see them and get something to eat. When they had finished feeding the cows, Daddy chopped a hole in the ice so the cattle could get a drink. When they had finished, Daddy said, “we had better get started back home. We have a long way to go, and we want to get home before dark.”

Shortly after they started walking down the highway, someone gave them a ride to the country road that led to their house. They still had three and a half miles to walk. As they made their way down the icy road, Daddy slipped and fell several more times. When they could finally see the home place, it was almost dark. They had walked miles and miles of treacherously slick roads to feed some cows. “Why did we have to go feed the cows when the roads were so icy?” Bobby wondered.  “A man’s word is important,” Daddy answered. “If you make someone a promise, you should do everything in your power to keep it.” When they opened the door to their house and felt the warmth of the wood stove, Bobby was happy to be home. He hoped that Daddy wouldn’t be too sore from all the times that he slipped and fell on the icy road.

The Daddy that felt that his promise to a neighbor was so important that he was willing to walk ten miles on slick, icy roads on a cold winter’s day was my Grandpa and Bobby was my Daddy. Daddy learned by example from an early age that a man’s word is his bond, and that the promises we make are important. As much as I would like to be able to say that because of the example of my Grandpa and my Daddy, I have always kept my promises; that isn’t the case. I have made promises that I didn’t keep. But God expects us to keep our promises. “If a man makes a promise to the Lord or says he will do something special, he must keep his promise. He must do what he said.” Numbers 30:2 (NCV)

Gentle Reader, I have had many promises made to me that were broken. I’m sure that you have too. And just like you, I have broken promises that I have made. But unlike the promises we make to each other, God keeps every promise he makes to us. God does not go back on His word. “God is not a human being, and he will not lie. He is not a human, and he does not change his mind. What he says he will do, he does. What he promises, he makes come true.” Numbers 23:19 (NCV) When you read your Bible, look for the promises God makes to you. A favorite promise of mine is found in Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” It is a promise you can count on!