This Job Is Not Permanent
Having mowed lawns and been a janitor by age 15, I was ready for something new, something that paid well. That summer a neighbor who worked for a local motor oil distributor offered me a job. Chickering Oil supplied motor oils to various retail outlets in Houston. They had every kind of oil imaginable in their warehouse: standard motor oil for cars, specialty aviation oils, oils with unusual weights for unusual engines, and various other petroleum-based lubricants. They had millions of cans of oil in their warehouse, and all of it was packed in cardboard cases of 24.
My neighbor explained the job to me:
"Cases are always falling or being knocked around. If a can of oil breaks, oil soaks the cardboard box, so we can't ship the case. We need someone to remove the good cans of oil and repack them in fresh cases. We'll pay you 50 cents a case."
The following Monday I was dropped off at Chickering Oil and escorted to a dark, oil-soaked corner in the back of the warehouse. A mountain of cases greeted me, all of them soaked in oil, bent, dented, or broken open. Off to the side was a huge stack of fresh cardboard boxes.
"You can't mix them up," I was told. "If you have a partial case of Havoline 10w-30, you have find the same brand and type of oil to fill the case."
I got to work. I climbed all over the pile, scrounging cans, making partial cases, sorting and packing and getting absolutely filthy. That first day I finished 40 cases and took home $20, which was a lot in 1976. By the end of the week I hit my stride. I was finishing 100 cases a day. At the end of each day I reported to the warehouse manager, who counted out $50 in cash. The first time it happened, one of the men who worked at the warehouse gave a low whistle.
"That's more than I make, boy."
I was proud of myself. I was 15 and making a grown man's salary. With a few day's pay I had more than enough to buy my own ten-speed bicycle. It felt good to be earning money. And the money seemed to come so easily. I made big plans about what I was going to do with the rest of the money I made that summer.
Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. After a couple of weeks, the mountain of damaged oil cases had dwindled. It became harder to find enough cans of the same oil to make a complete case, and my production dropped off accordingly. One day I only managed 40 cases. A few days later only 20. After that, the warehouse manager thanked me but said he no longer needed my services.
That's when I understood the way things were. This job was not permanent. They paid well, but they were just looking for someone to clean up the mess. Once that was done, I had worked myself out of a job. Somehow, being young, I never saw it coming.
There were some obvious lessons to be learned, certainly. An easy, high-paying job usually doesn't last. Better to have a steady job over a period of time. And, of course, the old classic piece of wisdom proved true: "If it's too good to be true it probably isn't." But the deeper lesson was one I didn't learn fully until I had gone through many such transitions in life. Great jobs disappear, friends move away, circumstances change, and people die. Things are always changing and not always for the best.
I've seen many churches go through this. The church enjoys a nice season. The staff gets along well, and it seems like there is a beautiful spirit among the people. Everyone thinks that somehow they have found the magic formula for church. Then the pastor everyone loved leaves. The next pastor does things differently. A problem family or two join the church and stir up a controversy. Before you know it, that church has left what they will forever call the golden years and entered a painful time of transition.
The solution is not to become jaded or cynical. Cynicism can keep you from enjoying and appreciating the present while you wait for the axe to fall. What's needed is spiritual wisdom. Jesus said it this way: "I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves."
It is a wise thing to both enjoy a good season and not expect it to last forever. It is wise to live in the present with humility and endure the transitions with grace. It is wise to consider where you will place your faith and your trust.
Wise people know how to celebrate and to live. They know a good thing when they see it. And they don't expect anything short of the love of God to last forever.