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The Journey of This Pilgrim, Part 5

As the Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians, he is obviously troubled.  He's heard about their divisions, which seemingly are all based on a cult of person:  some adherents to Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and some so bold to say they only follow Christ.  What was clear was that they had an incorrect concept of what it meant to be a leader.

I was 16 years old when I got a job working at the local Green Giant canning company.  I started in the Warehouse, driving a fork lift.  At age 16 driving anything was a thrill.  I learned how to wiz around the warehouse with the greatest of ease, and had a few races with other guys I worked with.  Yes, not very wise, but when you're 16 stupidity is just around the corner of almost every thought.  I worked there for about three weeks when one day the night plant manager, Frank stopped me and asked: "I am looking for a night canning foreman.  You would be in charge of sending the vegetables to the correct canning machines - it's an important job and you can't mess it up!"  I was taken back by the offer and didn't understand "why me"? 

As I staggered to figure out what to do two things were in conflict.  First I knew I had to give up my fork lift warehouse fun; and second, Frank said, "I can pay you $1.40/hour" which was 25 cents an hour more than I was making at the time.  I didn't quite understand the "Why me?" part, so I asked him, "Why me?"  It was the first time I heard the words and I still remember them to this day:  "I see in you a leader, someone who knows how to make decisions and act on them in a good way."  Part of me thought, "You don't know me", and the other part of me basked in the words, "You are a leader".  No one had ever said that to me before, and I never had that thought come to my mind either.  I wasn't the one who was the captain of anything, and when sides were chosen I was always in the bottom half of the ones chosen - not last - but definitely not in the top half either.

I worked as a night foreman in the canning company 6 years - thru my High School years and all the way through college.  I was "in charge" during the long night hours - when the "big-wigs" as we called them were home fast asleep.  I did my job fairly well - they kept wanting me to come back.  In fact when Frank left after three years to become the plant foreman of a new canning company he came to me in the Fall of the year, before I returned to college, and asked me to come to the new plant to take that same role of night canning foreman.  The incentive was money - "l'll pay you $3.25 and hour".  By this time I had been doing my job at the Jolly Green Giant for three summers and had risen in pay to $2.25 an hour...big money at the time.  The extra dollar he promised was enough for me to say, "You bet, I'll be there".

What was happening to me, in me, I did not know at the time.  In fact I didn't even know God personally at this time in my life.  I was a "pagan" teenager, motivated by money, girls, alcohol, and doing my own thing.  I was a product of the 1960's rebellious youth who grew up with the Beatles, rock and roll, and Vietnam.  It was time without God, and therefore - personally - without purpose or hope.  Live for now, and do it the way you want to.

After Frank's offer in the Fall of that year (1968) - I was a freshman in college by then - I went back to college and finished the year out.  That following Spring I drove to the new Canning factory in Lomira, Wisconsin.  California Canners and Growers built a brand new plant - new equipment, as high tech as we could be at the time.  I went to work and a few days into it met this young woman who caught my eye.  Her name was Linda.  I found her at a lunch room table, asked if I could join her, and began my first conversation with her - one of 1000's of conversations with her.  I didn't date her at the time, she was already committed to someone.  So I went to work...all summer long...and another year past.  I saw her again, from a distance that second year.  It was after the second season that I met her at a bar. 

She was with a friend, I was all alone.  My buddies and I played cards together every Friday night for over a year, and yet that night, that night, no one wanted to play.  So I left in search of some friends to be with.  I walked into the bar and directly in front of me was Linda...she had a Sundrop Soda in her hand.  "Hi, what are you doing here?"  That conversation was the second one we had, some 16 months after the first one.  But everything had changed in her life.  She was no longer committed to the guy she had been with, and I found that out before the night was over.

The following day I showed up at her part time waitress job, "Would you like to go out on a date?", followed by "Yes".   It was the end of September, 1970, and we began a courtship that would last 9 months and lead to our marriage in June of 1971. 

It was also the beginning of my life in Christ.  I found in Linda a faith that "arrested" me.  It stopped me in my tracks - my mind was alive and Christ was no longer a religious figure, but a friend, a Savior, one who loved me and saved me by going to the cross for me.  "YES, YES, YES"...as C.S. Lewis described it, I was "Surprised by Joy".  My family, my friends, they were all saying, wondering, "What has gotten into Elliott - he's a religious nut".  They said, "He's met this girl and changed religions for her".  It wasn't true, but it wasn't something I could reasonably explain.  How does one reasonably explain the unexplainable?  Now I know - but then I didn't.  God, through his Spirit, using the word of God that Linda showed me, opened my mind and heart to faith in Christ.  I was not seeking Him, he sought me. 

I'll end this part right here:  Paul writing to the Corinthians said it succinctly:  1 Corinthians 1:9 
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

When I tried to explain this faith, this fellowship with Jesus, I did not do it well. Yet I realized that no one can comprehend this divine exchange - his fellowship in Christ to me, my sins give to him - unless they enter into it personally themself.  Paul writes it in a way that is stark in its descriptive form:

1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Do you know him as your Savior, Personally?  That's the issue, that's my great desire for you to know.

Elliott


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