The price for the old trumpet in the pawnshop was three hundred dollars. This old coot has been around the block a time or two and, realizing that the shop had probably only paid their customer something less than half of that, wasn’t going to pay anything close to the marked price. Or, so I thought.
A while before, the phone had rung in the music store and a customer gave me a tip. “Paul, there’s a pretty interesting horn in the hock shop. You might want to look at it.” Acquiring a description and even the model number for the horn, I determined that if the price was right, I would indeed like to have the vintage instrument. When I finally arrived at the shop, I wandered around and jawed with the clerk for a few moments. I don’t ever try to deceive people, but it seems that we usually are able to discuss sensitive matters, such as the cost of items, a little more productively if we have developed something of a connection beforehand. Alas, that was not to be, this time.
I finally picked up the trumpet and examined it, finding it to be much as my informant had described it. The bell section was a bright silver color, whereas the rest of the instrument was lacquered brass. The bell had a few scratches in the silver, allowing a little brass color to show through, but that didn’t deter me in my ambition to own the old thing. “I’ll give you two hundred dollars for this one,” I offered casually. “Oh, no! I couldn’t sell it for that!” replied the clerk. “My boss says he has to get the marked price on it. The bell is solid silver, you know.” He was sure that he had me. The value of the silver alone would be greater than the asking price. Surely, he was going to make this sale! Calmly, I showed the young man the scratches on the bell of the horn, explaining, “If it were solid silver, this would be silver showing under here. If brass is showing, it can only be plated, not solid, silver.” Again, I suggested that my offer was a fair one, but the man would not be swayed. “No, it’s solid silver. I can’t drop the price.” I shook my head and left the store.
I was reminded of the circumstance as I watched a television program about the pawn business this evening. A gentleman had brought in a gold coin to sell, expecting at least to receive the going price for scrap gold. In this case, the pawn broker was the one in the know, realizing that the coin was a fake. The beautiful, “solid” gold coin was cleverly clad in a micro-thin layer of gold, but was practically worthless. In appearance, it was very much like the genuine 22-karat gold coin you see pictured on this page, but the gold is actually only about a micron thick (a micron is one-millionth of a meter). It was indeed a beautiful coin and the pawn broker mentioned that the genuine coin might be worth tens of thousands of dollars before breaking the news to the man that his coin was only worth a couple of dollars. It was a copy, intended only to look good enough to convince people with more money than sense that they needed to own this beautiful item. Unfortunately, its beauty is only in its appearance and nothing more.
I can’t begin to count the times that someone has informed me in the music store that the flute they own is solid silver. I just point to the tenon, the part of the head of the flute which slides into the body. Asking what they see, they will note that the metal is a different color where the instrument has been worn by use, being put together and pulled apart, over the years. If the horn were solid silver, all that you would find under the surface of the polished silver is more silver, right down through the metal. Silver after silver after…well, you get the picture. You can’t scratch through it, can’t polish through it, can’t wear through it.
I wonder if it is clear to the reader yet that I’m not really talking about coins and musical instruments here. In my lifetime, I have been disappointed again and again to find that people I admire and believed to be genuine are only clad in beautiful material, but are not actually made of that material clear to the heart. The saying “beauty is only skin deep” seems to apply here, but I want to make something clear. What seems to be beautiful at first glance, and later turns out to be a facade, a deceit, turns ugly very quickly. The coin in the pawn broker’s hand lost all of its appeal the instant he exposed it for the fake that it was. The appearance had changed not one whit, but the realization that under the surface was an alloy of brass and copper changed my perception completely. The same holds true of the people I have trusted, only to find that they were just fooling me. But, come to think of it, I’m not really even thinking about other people tonight.
I know who I am. No, not the surface me–the real me; all the way down to the core. If you scratch my surface, you will get a real surprise. You see, I have spent a lifetime constructing the outer appearance, the shiny outer material which people see everyday. It might even fool the occasional casual onlooker. But, the day is coming when that facade will be breached and all will understand that things have not always been as they seem. The prospect doesn’t make me happy.
There is encouragement, though. Our old friend, the Apostle (my namesake), reminds us that we are in the construction process right now. Materials are being chosen, and the structure is going up. It appears that the work continues until the day we pass from this temporal existence into the eternal one. We choose the building material. If we use shoddy material and accept second-rate workmanship, we’ll probably be in the majority, but that is of little comfort. Good work takes time (and effort) and only then with the proper materials!
Well, I should think that you’ve had enough lecturing from me for one session. While I’ve had a finger pointed squarely at myself, it is clear that the invitation to make sure of the quality of the building material is directed at every one of us. I hope you’ll work at it along with me.
In the mean time, don’t take any wooden nickels–or gold-clad five-dollar coins, for that matter.
“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”
(I Corinthians 3:12,13~NASB)
“(Keep me searching
for a heart of gold.)
You keep me searching
And I’m growing old.
(Keep me searching
for a heart of gold.)
I’ve been a miner
for a heart of gold.”