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I read a story told by Russell Conwell about a young man who lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania years ago. It just so happened that he inherited an iron furnace after his grandfather and father had passed away. He was a young man who had inherited a passel of wealth and as many have in the past was not accustomed to know what to do to handle it.

His father had sent him off to the east to a college and while he had gained a fine education, his ability to manage a business wasn’t what he had been trained to do. His education had fitted him more to work in a classroom than have his muscles stretched by running a steel mill. He did the best he could but as time passed it was very obvious that the business was being run into the ground.

The rate of freight climbed, the expense of getting the coal to fuel the furnaces rose in steady increments, and the difficulty of pulling the ore from the northern regions of the country soon consumed him. He was in a state of terrible despair one evening as he mulled over the invoices of the creditors. But his crisis came to a fevered pitch that night as he was rustled from the bed by one of his men who told him the furnace had caught fire and burned to the ground. It was a total loss as the fire from the furnace soon engulfed the entire plant and adjoining work yards.

All he could do the next morning was go out and look over the pile of slag. There were a few pieces of molten iron and some of the brick walls were still standing but leaning horribly. But overall it was nothing but a great monument to ruin. What to do now?!

He had no money, no furnace, no income, and in those days, no insurance money to cover his losses. There was nothing but a long ridge of slag along the river there in Bethlehem. He went out in the gloom and showed his friends and his creditors around the place and told them that his grandfather and father had labored long and hard to get it to where it was but now he had destroyed their success with his poor efforts.

Several weeks passed and the young man increasingly grew into a quiet, brooding, and disturbed state of mind. He still was responsible for a massive debt that had been incurred from his creditors and he just did not know what to do. One day as he shuffled through the ashes and slag caused by the fire, he determined that he would see if he could find a buyer and basically give the land away at a drastically reduced price and walk away. He determined that he would just disappear from life forever.

Later that evening, one of his college friends that was just passing through the country happened to stop in and see him. The visitor heard his friend’s terrible story of loss and how the fire had destroyed everything. After hearing out his friend, he asked if he could go and see the site where the steel mill had once been. So they took a couple of kerosene lanterns to the site and the friend then told the man that he had recently read in a business journal about an endeavor in England that was using slag to make concrete. But as an added benefit, it was discovered that what was not used to make concrete could be formed into leaded glass. They soon discovered that what could not be turned into concrete and leaded glass could be used to form synthetic marble tile.

The young man and his friend entered into a business partnership that soon repaid the creditors and turned both of them into very wealthy men. It was a slag heap that brought them to that place. Nothing but ashes, dust, and a man’s broken spirit but out of it emerged something so very valuable.

From a sermon by Philip Harrelson, Nothing but Slag, 5/14/2012

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