“This Train Is Bound for Glory,” VBS, Jim Singleton, Identity

7/12/2020 Glenda Simpkins Hoffman

Trains were a huge part of my life growing up. I’ll share more about that in a moment, but it helps explain why I was very excited about the theme for Vacation Bible School this week: Rocky Railway. I know that trains do have a lot of power to pull freight and passengers, just like Jesus’ power pulls us through, helping us do hard things and giving us hope.  

That theme goes really well with our psalm study this summer. Jesus helps us in the midst of our real-life experiences of pain, hurt, disappointment, loss, anger. His power gives us the help, hope, comfort, and strength we need.  

But I was especially struck by one of the passages used this week at VBS (Acts 3:1-4:31). Peter and John heal a man and then use the opportunity to preach the gospel and teach people about Jesus and his resurrection. They end up getting arrested and are told to stop proclaiming the good news, but they respond, “‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”  (Acts 4:19-20).  

Peter and John and experienced the truth shared on Day 4 of VBS: “Jesus’ power has forgiven us of our sin and enables us to live now and forever in a relationship with him.” This was such good news that they couldn’t keep it to themselves. The goodness and blessing of a relationship with God made it impossible to stay silent about their Lord and Savior. They believed “Jesus’ power helps us to be bold” (the theme for day 3 of VBS). So they stepped out to share the good news about Jesus with others.  

We too have experienced forgiveness and the new life Jesus gives. And he has entrusted to us the good news of salvation in Christ. This is not only the privilege and responsibility for apostles, or pastors, or teachers to share. As followers of Christ, we are called to witness about what we have seen, heard, and experienced, but many of us lack the boldness to do so. Perhaps it’s because we feel uncomfortable about talking about Christ. We may be concerned about coming across as judgmental or intolerant. Or maybe we just don’t know what to say.  

That’s why we are bringing in Jim Singleton for the next few Monday nights to talk about Your Story, The Story, and Their Story. His aim is to increase our comfort and understanding in a way that will reduce our uneasiness or even fear and give us handles on how to talk about the good news. Peter and John did this very well in the face of opposition we are unlikely to see. And while we are not them, we can become more familiar with the story and find ways to talk about our faith with boldness and love. I hope all of us will participate in this great opportunity.  

Mondays at 7:00 PM on July 13, 20, & 27. There is no cost and no registration is necessary. 

Zoom Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87063012183. 

But what does this have to do with identity? One thing you may not know about me is that I grew up in a railroad town. My dad along with his four brothers were conductors on the Southern Pacific Railroad. We could see train tracks from our house. My dad loved sitting on the back deck watching the trains go by and listening to the sound of their whistle blowing. Our frequent extended family gatherings always included a lot of conversation about trains.  

The railroad was the reason my hometown of Carlin, Nevada, was founded. And because it was such a big part of our identity as a community, at Carlin High School we were known as the Railroaders. While cabooses are no longer used on trains, there is still one sitting on the property of the school I attended only a block from my parents’ house. This is all to say that my identity in my early days of growing up had a lot to do with my family and the railroad community I grew up in.  

Because my dad not only loved the railroad but country music, we heard a lot of songs using riding the rails as a theme for the journey of the Christian life. Here are some of the lyrics from one of them: “This train is bound for glory. Nobody rides it but the righteous and the holy…. This train is a free train. Everybody rides in Jesus’ name… Do you want to ride it children, this holy train? … Get on board this holy train.”  

I am not personally a country western music fan. But I do like the lyrics of this song because it uses a metaphor to explain the story of salvation, which is a free gift. We are saved and made righteous and holy by grace through faith in Christ alone.  

How I first learned about the good news of Jesus and responded in faith to the invitation to get on board is what my story is all about. That’s how we get on board the gospel train that is bound for glory. But it’s not just about me. Those of us who are on the gospel train are to become the messengers to others. We begin by listening to and helping them understand their story and explaining the truth about Jesus and extending the invitation to “get on board this holy train.”   

I have lived away from my hometown for 40 years, so that identity is not what shapes me most now. It is my identity in Christ. And part of that means that I’m not only to be a child of God who enjoys the abundant and eternal life for myself. I’m called to be an ambassador, a minister of the good news of Jesus. I’m called to share it with others. That is who I am—a beloved child of God and a servant of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.  

The opportunity with Jim Singleton is not merely a learning experience. It’s the opportunity to better understand our true identity in Christ.  

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 says this: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

We are new creations in Christ, having been given the righteousness of Christ and made new by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But we are also ambassadors, representatives of Christ in this world as those entrusted with the ministry and message of reconciliation. I am praying and looking forward to seeing how God will help us all learn to live into our true identity more and more in the coming weeks and months. Let’s take advantage of every opportunity ahead to become better equipped for the ministry that our Lord and Savior has called us. 

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July 12, 2020
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