There is an old Southern Gospel Song that goes something like this: "Roll back the curtains of memory now and then, show me where you brought me from, and what I could have been. Remember, I'm human and humans forget, so remind me, remind, Dear Lord." Wise words. Though the scriptures encourage us to forget what lies behind (Philippians 3:13) they also encourage us to remember (Ephesians 2:11-12). Sounds like a contradiction. Not at all. We all have things we should forget and things we should remember. We need wisdom to know which is which!
Anyway, while on Sabbatical I wanted to revisit some places that contributed significantly to my spiritual journey. Last week I went by one of those places. At eighteen I had a life-changing encounter with God. Prior to that I was aimless and self-focused. In a word, lost. I had graduated from High School in the middle of my class, having never taken a book home (other than library books) in the entire course of my High School years. (If I couldn't get it done during school time, it was not worth taking home and interfering with the things I wanted to do.) I spent my energies on hot cars and fast girls (or was it hot girls and fast cars?). During my last year or so of High School, I worked at Bob Lutz Tire on Fulton Street, but had left there in late summer for a job in the big city--a Philly-based tire firm in Lancaster. However, I had quit there just in early December, for justice reasons (which is another story), and was unemployed for a month or so while I lounged around home (to my parents dismay) and rebuilt the engine in a 60-something Ford (it blew a piston one day coming home from Lancaster on 222) which I used as my run-around car so that I could keep my tweaked-out 69' Trans Am out of the rain.
So sometime early in 1972 I was looking for a job. I had checked out a few places to no avail. In hindsight I clearly see that God had a divine appointment for me. Someone told me that Kinder Manufacturing in Denver was hiring. I remember driving up the entrance to the office parking lot twice, and then turning around and leaving. "I did not want to work in a factory." Kinder manufactured furniture for the mobile home industry. Finally, on the third approach, I went in and was hired.
Factory work there resembled factory work everywhere, I suppose. People were nice, but rather crude (the women on the upholstery line had the foulest mouths I had ever heard, and remember I hung out with car guys). The work was routine and mundane. Though I was soon offered a management position, I could not see myself there long term. But in the midst of all the, shall I say, darkness, one person stood out. Scott oversaw one of the lines (at least I think that is what he did) and was clearly different from the rest of us. He came out of the hippy drug culture of the 60's. Long straggly hair, unkempt beard, tattered jeans, a bit of a glazed look in his eye (no doubt from too much LSD), but unashamedly in love with Jesus. Scott talked about Jesus all the time. Boy did it blow my mind (to use a good 60's term).
Scott could tell, I think, that I was searching and my questions paved the way for his interest in me. We would take lunch together and he shared his story and his heart with me. He took me to my first Bible Studies where I cut my spiritual eye teeth (that for another post) and began to grow in the ways of the Kingdom. As spring blended into summer, my life changed. I cannot point to an exact moment of transformation, but it was real and it was intense. I hungered for God and spent hours in his Word, no matter where I was. (I remember going to the beach for a day or two that summer with my buds and all I wanted to do is read the Gideon Bible in the hotel room.)
God did three very important things in my life during these months. First, he taught me about his guidance and sovereignty. Twice I turned away from Kinder before I went in and landed the job that placed me in a position to meet the person who would lead me to Jesus. But the third time I went in and my life was changed. A mystery of our faith and God's power lies right here; could I have turned back that third time and never returned? Would God have had another plan? Food for thought. I learned that God does have a plan for my life and that he will accomplish that plan, and the plan is always good.
Secondly, God shattered my pre-conceived notions of what Christianity is all about and what Christians are. Scott, in appearance at least, broke nearly everything my parents said was important in regard to how a Christian should look. And yet, Scott demonstrated more Christianity and more spirituality than anyone I knew up to that time. How could this be? Could it be that my conservative, Brethren, rural, culture had somehow got somethings wrong? Well it did, and does, and I continue to face the challenge of sorting out what is real, essential Christian faith and what is merely my cultural preferences, and worse, baggage. (But that too, needs to be another post.)
Thirdly, God taught me about his protection. I remember the very first time I heard God speak into my soul. It was spring of that year and I was in a long-term relationship with a woman. As God began to rebuild my life, one of hardest things related to the rebuilding of relationships. Friendships had to change, and God very specifically told me (so specific that I heard his voice in my spirit) that this long-term relationship and to come to an end. And so it did. However, there was another woman at work whom the Adversary quickly used to attempt to entangle me in another unhealthy relationship. She was about my age and had recently lost her husband in a car accident. We worked across from each other and developed a friendship that led to some casual dating. (She had a wild Olds 442 that I loved to drive.) However, God spoke again that summer, and again made it clear that this relationship had to end. The point here is that God was teaching me about his protection. As God rebuilt my circle of relationships (and I should say that some of my former friends also met God that summer and so God was rebuilding my life in a number of ways), I eventually met Doris in the fall of '72, and as we say, the rest is history!
These three early lessons went on to play a huge part in my Christian life, and continue to do so today. In many ways they shape my life and my ministry.
So last week I sat in the parking lot of what was Kinder Manufacturing (it is now some other company that makes mattresses) and, as the Gospel song encourages, I remembered. I remembered what I was and what I could have been. I remembered the gracious hand of God on my life and how he moved. I journaled around those memories and relived the moments of transformation. It was sweet.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what ever became of Scott and cannot even remember his last name. I left Kinder early in 1973 and never saw him again. As I end this post, I lift up a prayer for Scott:
God, how awesome you are. Thank you for the year I worked at Kinder and for the divine appointment of meeting Scott and his influence in my life. I do not know where I would be today had I not walked in that office and applied for a job. Dear God, thanks for the foundational and elementary lessons of faith you taught me that summer--they have served me well all these years. I thank you for Scott--I do not know what ever became of him or if he is even still alive. I entrust him to you and ask that somehow he might be reminded of this year in his life and that he might find joy in knowing that he has left an lasting impact on at least one life--a life lived for you. Amen.