When the large lady's breast landed on the bald guy's head, our little church was anything but dead. She got blessed while nursing and when she stood and that blanket fell, seems the men got blessed as well.
Revival services just aren't what they used to be.
During my first summer in church camp, in a whitewashed tabernacle in Frankfort, Indiana, I saw a grown portly man run the backs of pews-I did, I did, I did. When that expansive arena was empty, and nobody seemed to be looking, yeah, I tried it. Well, let's just say I'm probably short to this day because of a serious misstep. I never saw another man run a pew, especially one with his big belly showing, and his feat likely qualifies as a miracle.
Church services come in all styles, and so do their leaders. Some preachers whine and whimper, others strut and shout. Some tell bible stories with zeal, others are the stories themselves.
And every century a few seem to rise above the rest. During the late nineteenth century it was D. L. Moody. This week I had the privilege of standing at his grave on "Holy Hill" in Northfield, Massachusetts. It's just a few yards from his birthplace, and across the hillside from his homestead. Although he's known today for Moody Bible Institute, his most substantial work in his life, besides his massive crusades, was building two huge preparatory schools for girls and boys. The first was at Northfield for girls, and then a boys' school five miles away at Mt. Hermon (enough space to keep them safe from one another).
The campus' new owners asked me to assess it. The two schools merged on the Mt. Hermon site. The massive Victorian brick buildings in Northfield were left behind, including an auditorium that seats 2,500 and a stunning church that seats 500. Signature buildings abound. Many of them were donated by Moody's friends-some followed him from his legendary European revivals. Several were built by Moody from the royalties of his songbooks from those crusades! Hymnals built two campuses. Unbelievable.
Imagine in the 1800s having such large crowds that you could sell enough books to build a college campus! Historians recount that the appeal of the man with the equivalent of only a fifth grade education was both genuine and enormous. The campus is at least an hour from any airport, and near nothing substantially large – and yet has a 2,500-seat auditorium!
I stood behind his church pulpit and imagined the past from recollecting black and white photos. From the stage of the large auditorium I envisioned the crowds flanked by the full choir behind. The balcony circles the entire main floor. D. L. Moody said, "Give me a man who says this one thing I do, and not those fifty things I dabble in." For Moody, though somewhat a Renaissance man, his one thing was preaching. And, his preaching was focused on showing God's love in order to convince people to give their lives to God. Everything about the now defunct Northfield campus was to that end. Everything about Moody Bible Institute remains true to that purpose.
His son, Paul, noted that "He preached very little against superficial things."
Early in his career he had become a successful shoe salesman and then land speculator, before realizing he needed to give all his energies to ministry. He started his now legendary Sunday school in a Chicago train car, and when it outgrew it he moved to an old saloon, and then again to the North Market hall. He even lived on a cot at the YMCA before marrying Emma. And through his connection with the YMCA he met Ira D. Sankey-who became the famed singer of his crusades.
Moody also said, "Faith makes all things possible, love makes all things easy." The Northfield campus was a leap of faith, but he founded it after visiting a family and felt compassion for the girls. This historical account story is in the campus history, Lift Thine Eyes, handed to me by the caretaker. "One summer day in 1875, Dwight Lyman Moody and his brother Samuel drove their buggy past a rough cabin a few miles from their childhood home in Northfield. Sitting on the porch were three young girls and their mother, plaiting straw for hats. The portly evangelist turned to his brother and wondered: what would be the future for those girls, daughters of a paralyzed man who could not afford to educate his children? Thus the seeds were planted for the educational career of D. L. Moody, who was himself a fatherless, unschooled boy before becoming the world's most celebrated preacher of his day."
The book also notes that toward the end of his career, he realized that "education would provide a more enduring vehicle for evangelism." And, as we still see in Moody Bible Institute, and for a century at Northfield, Massachusetts, he was correct.
Before leaving that hallowed and empty campus, I made my way to a lonely triple-locked archive, perhaps the first visitor besides security guards in months. And there it was, behind the boxes and the piles, but still protected. Like a monument to the ages, the fulcrum of his person-His bible.
Both majestic and sad. It was the obvious source of so much. And yet, while one campus in Chicago that carries his name where his "one thing" – ministry – thrives, another is gone. Last year, according to a life-long Northfield resident, the combined co-ed preparatory school officially separated from its religious heritage.
But I'm also reminded of the miracle in Marion, Indiana where I serve. Indiana Wesleyan University, in a small city an hour from the both Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne airports, in a sense is in a Northfield. It recently built a 3,800 seat auditorium. Not for plays. Not for political speeches. But for worship. No world-renowned evangelist built the campus, but many great orators have passionately carried the same message as Moody, and many more will.
While Moody was thriving in Chicago, and exhilarated with the thousands following the services in Britain, he couldn't shake the image of those three girls on the porch back home. What image is prompting you to invest your resources? I hope it's not a breast on a bald guy's head, and not a superficial thing, but something that burns within your breast that's for something beyond yourself.
One of Moody's biographers recounts that when his large Chicago Church burnt, many were standing around lamenting the loss. While the flames were still burning he agreed with them, then asked them to do something about it-and had the building fund raised before the smoke cleared. My friends, there are a lot of needs that need you. Whether you helped buy one seat in the gorgeous chapel at IWU, a section of the new athletic complex at Taylor, or retrofitted the Star Financial YMCA, learn from Moody and be about at least "one thing" that's good. The New York Times said as he passed, his last words were "I see earth receding; Heaven is opening; God is calling me." He was coming face-to-face with that "one good thing." He died on December 22, 1899.
This column originally appeared in the Dec. 20, 2011 edition of the Chronicle Tribune.