I decided I was not going to say anything. I was simply going to do what I always did…nothing…smile and take it. After all, the fellow who had just installed the countertop was nice and had worked hard…and from a distance it really did look amazing. I guess I was just hoping he would say something about the thing my eyes were glued to…so I would not have to…but he did not. He was standing right next to it…in fact his hand was resting on it. How does he not see it? I was probably 7 or 8 feet away…and I could see it. I was fairly certain people in Topeka, Kansas could see it…for crying out loud, people on the International Space Station could see it. Yet he said nothing. Once again, I found myself in one of those positions I simply loathe–trying to decide if I should speak up or not. The greenish marble-like countertop could not have looked or fit any better…But right on top, and I do mean right on top, in one of the corners, was a set of numbers that meant absolutely nothing to the universe and made no sense…likely a style number or perhaps a job number (Mark the Builder’s best guess). The numbers were not small. Of course they wouldn’t be now would they? They appeared to be hand-written by someone in a hurry…using the largest Sharpie marker under heaven. When the contractor had stepped outside for a quick break, I took a damp cloth and tried to erase the numbers…but it wasn’t happening. We all know Sharpies are permanent…but these numbers had more of an “eternal” feel to them. Do all countertops come with numeric codes plastered all over the place?
As the man finished up he grabbed his tools and the leftover debris and bade me farewell. I watched him walk away in what felt like slow motion. Everything in me was screaming, “WWWAAAIIIIITTTTT……WHAT ABOUT THEEEEEESE NUMBERS????” (Capitalization used for dramatic purposes) But he was done…off to another job. I stood in the room alone looking at the numbers that seemed to be growing in size by the second. I gave the wet rag another go. Nothing…the black numbers were as visible as the Hollywood sign and seemed to be taunting me with a Joker-like laugh that shrilled they were not going away. After a few deep breaths, I headed to the janitorial closet on the other side of the building. My pace quickened as I made my way over. I was starting to get serious about all of it…I was preparing myself for battle. I grabbed enough cleaning bottles to clean every room in Bill Gates’ house. I also grabbed more rags and 2 types of scouring pads…the numbers were going down. I was mad now…and though no one was in the building but me…a serious fight was about to take place and I was putting all of my money on Mark. I marched back to the room under construction loaded with supplies and focused on the task at hand. I felt like Clint Eastwood in an old western movie preparing to face the bad guys. Mano A Mano. The only thing missing was the old western music. It was high noon for the graffiti on my new countertop…(normally we did not have tumbleweeds in the church hallways…but we did that day).
After twenty minutes or so passed by I was a sweaty mess. My pride and optimism were gone…but the numbers were still there. I had tried every bottle on the shelves. Mr. Clean, Comet, Fantastic, Formula 409, a bottle of orange stuff, a bottle of green stuff, and Clorox all had a shot at the title…and all had come up empty. I could almost hear the Sharpie folks giggling in a corner somewhere. The only thing I could do was come up with some really crazy story that suggested the numbers were supposed to be on there…all the while knowing no one on the planet would believe me. “Why yes those numbers are supposed to be there. I ordered it this way. All the high-end countertops have these. Most people buy the cheap stuff…without the numbers. You wouldn’t understand.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at least a little bit…thinking that as crazy as that little story would sound, it would be an even crazier thing to believe it. I stood there looking at a brand new sink, cabinets, and a countertop with an everlasting tattoo of nonsensical numbers that even Daniel could not interpret. And then there was the obvious…why did I not say anything about this to the guy who installed it? I stood right next to him most of the morning…not minutes…but hours…looking at those numbers. But Mark uttered not a peep. I had no answer for that…just the sad reality that is how I normally am. Sigh…twice.
The next day, a dear lady in the church stopped by to say hi. She liked the countertop and the work of the contractor. She commented on the layout, the color, the style…and everything else. After a couple of minutes of praise and adoration for the completed work, she paused and said, “If I were you, I think I would get those numbers off the countertop.” I was still hungover with the bad mood from the day before. I probably still smelt like Pine-Sol. I took a slow breath and attempted to explain what had happened…how it happened. As if written in the clouds, the nice lady finally said it out loud…”I would not have let him leave without cleaning those numbers off.” Of course you would have done that…that’s what any normal person would have done. I hung my head in shame.
Just as I was thinking about the nearest bridge to jump off of, she said, “I’ve got something, preacher, that will get those numbers off.” I snickered privately. A belt-sander and a 55 gallon drum of battery acid could not get those numbers off. I had done everything humanly possible…all to no avail. Yet this lady seemed as confident as LeBron James in a game of HORSE with Dolly Parton. She disappeared for a few minutes and then returned with a little white piece of sponge called a “Magic Eraser.” I could not have been more shocked. If she was indeed serious about getting the numbers off, then I expected her to come back driving a piece of heavy equipment with “Caterpillar” written on the side of it. I was wrong…it was just a tiny little sponge. I had never heard anyone speak of this thing. The only thing I could think of was that the lady was absolutely nuts if she thought that little white sponge was gonna take those numbers off that countertop. I was trying to gather my composure so I would not laugh when my misguided and over-confident friend embarrassed herself…which I was certain she was going to do. I pretended to pay attention as she started the impossible task. I didn’t really need to watch…since I knew exactly what was going to happen. However, her confidence began to bolster as mine began to fade as if, by magic, the numbers began to eerily disappear. My mouth literally gaped open. As if to rub salt in the wound, she handed me the sponge and told me to have a go at the two remaining numbers. I took the sponge and within seconds the final two numbers vanished. No soap…so sandpaper…no power tools…no adjectives or adverbs…just the little sponge letting the universe know a new sheriff was in town.
She called the little miracle-maker a “Magic Eraser.” I was in awe of the thing. I was almost afraid to touch it. I just knew it had to be loaded with something illegal and/or lethal. By touching the thing to tackle the remaining two numbers, I figured my death was imminent. Poison of some kind was most-likely running through my veins. The friendly church lady had killed me. The deacons had sent her. Their plan had worked. The sponge had taken the numbers…and the pastor out of the picture. It was either that…or I had just witnessed a miracle. I’m not sure as a pastor that I should call it a miracle…but I must say it almost felt like one. I saw it with my own eyes…and used it with my own hands…it did what could not be done. Permanent marks from the great and galactic Sharpie had survived my best efforts…and yet the most unlikely candidate on earth had managed to save the day…a white sponge…not much bigger than a credit card. That very afternoon, I went to the store and bought a box of Magic Erasers. Since that awe-inspiring moment, I have always managed to have a box of those things nearby. I have used them in countless ways to save the day again and again. I still don’t know how they work…I just know they do. Miracles really do never cease. 🙂 (I still wash my hands after I use one…can’t be too careful).
Over the years, I have shared the Magic Eraser story dozens of times. It blew my mind back then…in fact it still does. But as neat as the story is, it is but a shadow when compared to another true story I am very familiar with. It is the story of a permanent stain becoming clean in the most unlikely way imaginable. The stained pieces are people…all people. The stain is sin…and our best efforts cannot get it off…regardless of how determined we might be. Fortunately, God has been kind and gracious to us. Not only has He warned us about our sin…He has also told us our self efforts are useless. But He did not stop there…He actually provided us with what we need to have the stain removed. He sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins…and through faith in Him…our stains are gone. This was His plan from the very beginning. I remember singing “Jesus Paid It All” in church when I was just a little boy. The words of the song, especially the chorus, seemed to jive with what our pastor was always preaching. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” The song itself was one big word picture of what salvation was all about. I could “see it” as we sang. Over time, I began to understand how wonderful salvation is and that Jesus’ atoning work was the giant theme of our Bibles…prophesied from old. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Today the stain remains for countless millions around the globe. We are born with the stains in place according to Scripture. And though God has told us how to get the stain(s) removed…many in our nation no longer want to hear about it and many Christians act as though it’s not worth sharing. I suppose I can sort of understand the unbeliever not being too concerned about the issue…but it’s much more disturbing to think of Christians who keep the good news to themselves. The nice church lady I mentioned earlier walked me to the closet that day and showed me where the Magic Erasers were stored. Turns out, it was the same closet I had raided the day before looking for cleaning supplies…they were there the whole time…I just didn’t see them because I thought I knew what I needed. Spiritually, it’s much the same. We think we are okay…we think we know how to fix things…we don’t need help. We know what we’re doing. (are we not all familiar with that type of spirit?) I am so thankful for the dear one who took the time to show me the little box of miracles. Spiritually we are to do the same as Christians in the world. Yes, we have to point out how dirty and stained we all are. But we also get to “walk them to the closet” and tell them how to be cleaned. That’s our opportunity to tell them the great news of God’s plan to forgive and cleanse us…through faith in His dear Son. Magic Erasers still impress me…I must admit. But I am in awe of God. He is not hiding in a closet next to a bunch of other things hoping you might stumble across Him sometime soon. He is in plain view and stands ready to clean the dirtiest of all stains. So stop scrubbing. Look to Jesus…look to the cross. Turn to the One who is both willing and able to save (and clean) all who come to Him.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Blessings to you and your family.