My father lived in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania area growing up as a boy after my grandfather immigrated from Germany to America in 1905. He used to tell a story about the railroad in those days when workers who inspected the rails, switches, car couplings, etc., carried lanterns fueled by kerosene. We called it “coal oil” when I was young because everyone used to pour it on the coal in their stoves and furnaces. In fact, my precious grandmother thought it had medicinal properties because every time one of us children we would get a scrape, scratch, sore, or infection she would tell us, “Go put some coal oil on it.”

But the railroad issued a special type of kerosene for those lanterns that was purer than the common brand one could buy down at the local hardware store because it made the lantern burn much brighter so the worker could better see what he was doing. When a lantern with the pure kerosene was put side by side with one burning regular kerosene it was easy to spot the difference. The pure kerosene lantern light looked bright white while the mixed kerosene lantern gave off an almost orange light that was much dimmer because the flame gave off a form of black smoke.

This caused some railroad workers to cheat and use the special oil at home and put common oil in their lamps for work. So as these railroad workers went around on their job inspecting the tracks etc., you could easily spot which ones were using the good oil and which ones had switched because of the quality of light in their lanterns. Anyone caught doing this was immediately fined because they had stolen the good oil to use at home instead of using it on the job for the railroad that issued it to them.

My grandfather was a Lutheran minister for a church he helped start in Johnstown and so my dad grew up in that faith and did all the things that were expected of him. But one day a Pentecostal evangelist came to town to hold revival meetings down at the city auditorium. So his wife, along with her sister-in-law, decided to attend this revival. Every night they would come home talking excitedly about what the preacher had said. She would tell my father, “You’ve got to go hear this evangelist. We’ve never heard such preaching before.” My dad would brush it off and tell her he had been baptized as a child, gone through catechism, and received his first communion as a child so he didn’t need to do anything more to be a good Christian.

Yet they kept insisting that he should go, even if it was only once. So one night after they left, he walked down to the auditorium and stood outside under a window so he could hear what was going on inside. That was before air conditioning, so the windows of the auditorium were open and he could hear the music and singing. Then the preacher got up to preach. My dad had never heard such passionate intensity in preaching before. He became so curious that he had to see this for himself.

So he went to the front door of the auditorium and tried to open the door quietly so he could sneak in unnoticed. However, the door hinges squeaked and creaked so loudly that the people sitting in the back all turned around to see who was entering. He quickly found a seat and saw a somewhat short, stocky preacher with a balding head on the platform, preaching fervently as he waved his arms. The preacher also had an index finger on his right hand that had been partially cut off at the knuckle in an accident, and when he would say something about how people were sinning and living their lives for Satan, he would point that stubby finger toward the congregation.

It didn’t take long before my dad became suspicious that his wife had told this preacher all about him because every time he mentioned some sin that my dad had in his life he’d point that stubby finger right at him. He’d had enough, so when the altar call was given he got up and exited the auditorium and went home. But all night he couldn’t get what this preacher said off his mind. He got up around 4:30 am in the morning to go to work, and while standing in the kitchen having a cup of coffee, the conviction became so strong that he couldn’t stand it anymore. So he got down on his knees and begin to pray that if what this preacher was saying was right and that he was such a sinner, he asked God to save him and cleanse him right then and there.

My dad used to tell how all of a sudden a warm feeling cascaded over his body like a waterfall. Then he felt a heavy load being lifted from off his shoulders. Tears of joy came to his eyes as he began to thank the Lord for His forgiveness. When he stood up, he saw his wife standing at the top of the stairs with tears of joy running down her face. She told him how they had all prayed that this would happen and so they rejoiced together.

When he went to work it was then that it dawned on him that all along he had been living with the wrong kind of oil in his life that was giving off a dim light to those around him. Now he had purer oil that radiated from his life, and it would shine brighter now for others to see Jesus living inside him.

We don’t use kerosene lamps in our homes or at work today, but I’m sure anyone can understanding how pure oil can produce a brighter light than regular oil. So the question for us is this: since we call ourselves born again Christians when people look at us can they tell if we have the pure oil of the Holy Spirit burning inside us, or are we running on the oil produced by mere adherence to church doctrine, rules, and rituals? If so, maybe it’s time for a change of oil.

As a child, we used to sing this song in church:

Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.
Keep me burning till the break of day.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King of kings!
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
sing hosanna to the King!

Maybe it’s time to get out the hymnbook and begin to sing this song in earnest again. – Dr. Robert R. Seyda


About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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