I did see ghosts in the congregation. It looked like people but you could see through them. They glistened. They were pure.
There were all dressed in different garb representing their own eras. I could recognize George Whitefield. He was a little cross-eyed. Charles Grandison Finney had a funky beard. So did Dwight L. Moody. Billy Sunday kept sliding into chairs. He was a little hyper but he was a pro baseball player before he was an evangelist.
There were many others but those were the ones that I recognized. They were each from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the height of the Philadelphian epoch.
I thought I had walked into a business meeting of ghosts. In actuality, it was an intervention. It was an intervention for me! After my heart procedure, they assembled to give me some good advice.
I remembered that in colonial times the evangelist named George Whitefield preached to possibly 10 million people.1 He went from town to town. He had to be careful about where he spoke and what time of the season it was. All the farmers would hear he was coming, they would drop their plows so they’d leave their planting to hear him. They could starve that way! So Whitefield would have to be careful when he’d show up avoiding the spring.
Whitefield once preached from the courthouse in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin had been alerted that Whitefield could be heard for a great distance so the massive crowds could hear him. Franklin perched himself at a point a mile away from Whitefield on the courthouse steps. Ben was amazed that he could still hear the evangelist. In a day before megaphones and sound systems, could this be considered a miracle?
All the congregants were all just staring at me. I could see through them. I think they could see through me. George addressed me first.
“I hear you have some heart issues,” he said.
“Well, physically,” I said.
“It could be from the awful food you creatures eat in this age. I knew some Mac-Donalds but they didn’t cook those terrible things you call ‘ham-burgers.’”
“The trick is to ask for one without pickles and then they have to make one fresh,” I advised.
“Helpful but I really wanted to address your spiritual heart. Did you realize that the Scripture has some helpful advice regarding your organ you have pumping in your chest? It says, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
I think it means that you need to eat some better food and maybe walk or ride a horse between engagements. But you also have to be careful to completely trust the Lord with the help of the Holy Ghost. I know you hadn’t trusted the Lord until after the Great Evacuation but now you know you have come to have some health issues. You need to be careful and guard your heart.”
I had figured that George would use Proverbs to get my attention. George had a background as a thespian and personally studied the Bible thoroughly without a formal education. One of the most famous preacher’s wives of his time said he aimed more at the heart than emphasizing theology. I really like him. He was most responsible for the first revival that spread across the land.
Next, Charles Finney stepped up. When I had taught about him in my college classes I always said, “Finney is funny.” I meant his demeanor and appearance but his theology was a little strange at times, too. It certainly wasn’t because he was a jokester. He was far from that. He offended almost everyone that encountered him . . . at first, anyway. A man brought a gun on his second night of preaching one time intending to kill him.
He was originally a lawyer by trade before becoming a preacher which affected his doctrine and preaching style. Nevertheless, he helped set a second great awakening burning across the nation. He was an innovator influencing all evangelists after him. He was once described as the “used car salesman of evangelists.”
He looked me right in the eyes. It was as if they were coals on fire. I began to melt.
“What do you have in your pocket?” he asked.
Strangely, I had a pocket watch my wife had gotten me a while ago. How did he know about that?
“A watch,” I said.
“Move it to the other pocket,” he ordered.
I was afraid to ask why.
“It will remind you that ‘now is the time to accept things as they are.’”
It was a good thing I wasn’t wearing a wrist watch! He probably just would have commanded me to move it to my other wrist!
He placed one of his toes to the rear of his other heel and did an abrupt about face and walked away.
He sure had a knack for producing results. Good advice I thought.
Next Dwight L. Moody approached me. He is a good representative of the third flood of Christianity spreading across America during the late 1800’s. He was a kindly man and reminded me of my grandfather but with a full, long beard.
He and his associates preached the gospel to an excess of 100 million people.3 On just one Sunday at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago he was responsible for 130,000 people to hear the gospel. He began children’s Bible schools in Massachusetts as well as a college, an influential church and publishing company in Chicago which all bear his name till this day.
He believed he was only an average preacher and thought that God’s work, as he said, “must be done by men and women of average talent. After all, there are comparatively few people in this world who have great talents.” He preached six sermons a day until the month before he died. He might have some good advice for me.
Moody walked up and put his hand on my shoulder. He said “Satan puts straws across our path and magnifies it and makes us believe it is a mountain, but all the devil’s mountains are mountains of smoke; when you come up to them they are not there.” Remember that.
“Gadzooks. I will,” I told Moody. I would have said “Yikes” but thought he wouldn’t understand. I’ll bet Satan did contribute to my health challenges.
“Also may I say young man, don’t say ‘gadzooks.’”
Hey, I think I am older than he. He called me “young man.”
“You shouldn’t use terms if you don’t know what they mean.”4 Rather say something like ‘yikes.”
I can’t win.
Then he added, “I think there is a saying from your own time that may help you.
‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.’”
I really didn’t like that adage. But if Dwight wanted me to think about it, I guess I should.
Though he did leave me with one of his own sayings, “The Lord gives his people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to him.”
After they all had their say, they all swooped out as in a strong breeze. They left me to figure out how to preach to a perfect church . . . full of ghosts! But I had a whole day to think about it.
(To be continued . . . .)
2 Prov. 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. NASB
4 Gadzooks most probably was a shortened version of “God’s hooks” referring to the nails through Jesus’ arms and legs on the cross.