When I was a kid, I loved to play wiffle ball. Six or seven of us would get together in someone’s backyard and spend the better part of summer afternoons running down crooked baselines and arguing about the score. And the score was never right. Even when we had four people to a side and could load the bases, the score was still off. Our problem was the ghost men.
Anybody who has ever tried to play a game of two-on-two wiffle ball knows about ghost men. You bat, run as many bases as you can get and if your turn to bat comes up again before you score, you yell “ghost man on.” Whatever base you were last on is where your ghost man takes over and you step up to the plate once again. Depending on the rules you played by (they usually changed by the inning), ghost men moved either one base or two in front of the batter when the ball was hit. If the ghost man was on third and you hit a fly ball out of the infield, he scored. If a ghost man was on first and your hit a double he got to third. If the ghost man was on second and you hit a double, he scored. (Pretty intricate system for 10-year-old boys, huh?)
The problem always came when you lost your ghost men. Were they first and third? First and second? As soon as the ghost men got lost, the score went out the window. One person would say it was 9-7 or maybe 10-6. One kid in our neighborhood used to subtract one of your runs for every one he scored and then take his bat home if you argued with him. Sooner or later a fight would break out and that was the end until tomorrow. Well, anyway, that was just a long anecdote to lead up to this point: Ghost men go to church.
They show up on Sunday. They get counted in the attendance rolls for Sunday School and worship attendance. They occupy space on the pews, but they have no substance. They sing, they stand on cue and sit on cue. They bow their heads to pray and shake the preacher’s hand as they leave, waiting for the next week to take their place on base once more.
But there are no such things as ghost men. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11:
Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another he gives the gift of special knowledge. The Spirit gives special faith to another, and to someone else he gives the power to heal the sick. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and to another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to know whether it is really the Spirit of God or another spirit that is speaking. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, and another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
Notice the final line of this passage, “He alone decides which gift each person should have.”
There is no ghost man on the soundboard or in the Sunday school class or the pulpit. God gives to each of us gifts, specific abilities suited to our talents and interests. Everyone, no matter their background or circumstances, has a responsibility to rest of the body. In this same chapter, Paul later says, For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If one gift is missing or unused it is like loosing a finger or an eye, or a foot. Ghost men are really nothing more than missing limbs.
And this begs the question, how real are you?