a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 67
"Whereas the heathen are prone to sacrifice in order to obtain mercy, Biblical faith teaches that the divine mercy provides the basis for sacrifice as the fitting response." Everett F. Harrison
[Three passengers enter, walking down the center aisle of the train.]
Isn't this a beautiful train!
Such lovely appointments!
So well made. Strong construction.
[They take their seats.]
And a smooth ride.
But the service is pitiful! Why, last night there was no one to prepare my bed. I waited hours!
And this morning my breakfast never came at all.
That's nothing. I had to carry my own bags onto the train-- (wincing) and me with a bad back!
Obviously they don't think much of their passengers. We really should write a letter to the president of the line.
[The conductor enters from behind the passengers while they are speaking, passing down the aisle toward them.]
They just don't have enough stewards to go around.
There's the conductor! Maybe he can help.
I'm so thirsty. Ask him to get us some tea.
And something to eat!
My good man, would you get us something to drink. Some tea would be nice, (checking with his companions) and maybe some breakfast. We are quite famished.
Oh yes, please!
My, my ... I couldn't do that. No, that wouldn't be right at all.
See here! What do you mean? (to her companions) Such impertinence.
Dear, dear ... this is unseemly. I thought it was stated clearly in the brochure. (fumbles for a brochure out of an inside pocket; reading) "First-class passage ... no charge for ticket ... all necessities provided ..." Yes, here it is: "Responsibility for all the above lies completely with the passengers themselves." (putting away brochure; relieved) Well, that's a relief! For a minute there I thought we might have a lawsuit on our hands. (pause) You see, you are the stewards. (turning to go) Now, will there be anything else?
Now hold on! This is an outrage!
There must be some mistake. I would never have agreed to such an arrangement.
We are more accustomed to having people take care of us.
Ah, but you see, you're on "The Train" now. Things are different. You're now a part of the family.
[The passengers look at each other, confused, mouthing the word "family"]
The Father's train is different from others. It has the finest accommodations--everything the best. It also has the finest engineer and (preening) conductor. The engineer and the conductor keep the train rolling perfectly and on time. But the passengers on the train are expected to give of themselves. They have been left in charge of the rest of the family.
It was on your ticket! (he takes a ticket from Mr. Periwinkle; after scanning to locate what he is looking for) Yes, here it is: I Peter 4:10, "Each one has received a special gift; employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (he returns the ticket)
But ... what can we do?
Let's see ... Mrs. Shipley, isn't it? Oh yes, I see here that you are an excellent cook,. (she nods her head proudly) Well then, you can be in charge of our Wednesday night dinners.
Yes, I could do that once.
Once?! (chuckling) Why, no, my dear. We will need it every week.
He gave you that gift! What have you been doing with it? (turning to Miss Newelpost; finding her name on his pad) Now, Miss Newelpost, you're a school teacher. Third grade, correct? (she nods, pleased) Perfect! The children on the train are always needing Sunday School teachers. (Miss Newelpost looks slightly stunned) It's so important. (pause; looking at list) Now Mr. Periwinkle. It says here you're in sales, and that you--
Why yes, we have the finest line of--
That's really not necessary. But we can certainly use your talents. You see, we have people in some of the other cars of the train who are brand new to the family. They just got onto the train and are really unsure of their next step. We need people who can go into those cars and speak with the newcomers--help guide them along, as it were.
[The man starts to object.]
Also, we sometimes actually leave the train to invite others aboard. You'd be perfect!
I--I really wouldn't know what to say to them. I don't think I could.
You mean, you're refusing?
I wasn't aware it was a requirement.
It's not. You may ride on the train even if you don't help. (pause; begins to leave, then turns back; to all three) But isn't it funny that you're so eager for the free ride and all the extras that go along with it--but don't want to give anything of yourselves. Nothing of the abilities that the Father has so freely given you. You didn't have to pay. (pause) Well, like I said, there's no obligation. You can stay on the train. (as he turns to go; sadly) But He'll be so disappointed.
W--wait a minute. Would I have to do it ... alone?
Oh, my no! I'll be there beside you all the time. I'll tell you what to say.
Well, all right. I'll give it a go.
Oh, He'll be so pleased! Come, come everyone. There are others waiting for you.
[They exit, trooping after the Conductor.]
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship Romans 12: 1 NASB
Therefore, brothers and sisters, because of the mercy already shown us by God, I urge you to make your bodies available to Him as a living, breathing sacrifice, in a manner pleasing to Him--a well-reasoned, deliberate act of service worship (paraphrase of Romans 12:1)
Nineveh was a very large city, the capital of Assyria, and in a weakened state from the advancing northern tribes of Urartu. For reasons known only to Him, the Lord God wanted to deal with their condition of sin by offering them hope and salvation through the ministry of His prophet, Jonah, son of Amittai
To say Jonah was reluctant would be an understatement.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3
God said to go east; Jonah went west.
The old familiar tale of Jonah being swallowed by a fish (not a whale) has been told in Sunday Schools for centuries. But the real story of the book of Jonah is of a disobedient, petulant--even bigotted--prophet who failed to answer God's call to service.
Jonah's reason for fleeing God's presence in the first place is not spelled out for us, but based on his later actions and words regarding the Ninevites it would follow that because he had no great affection for the people of Nineveh, he therefore saw no good reason to evangelize them for the Lord. The Israelites had theirs--let the Ninevites eat cake.
Whatever his motivation for flight, Jonah hopped the first boat heading in the opposite direction. But the Lord was having none of it. He threw a fierce storm at them that raged about the ship until every man of the crew was on his knees praying to his favorite deity to save their lives.
Through all the turmoil Jonah, the cause of it all, was down in the hold of the ship either asleep or passed out. The captain, anxious to enlist the aid of every god available, woke Jonah and insisted that he immediately get on his knees to pray to his god.
Meanwhile, the crew cast lots to ascertain who among them was responsible for the calamity--whose god was angry at whom? Not surprisingly, the lot fell to Jonah. He was the man.
They descended on the hapless prophet and demanding that he explain himself.
He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." This terrified them and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?" "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." Jonah 1:9-12
What is truly remarkable about our God is that even in the midst of His discipline, He still shows mercy. The sailors picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea. Jonah describes in his own words what happened next...
You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.
The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. Jonah 2:3,5-6
But before he drowned, God provided a great fish to save Jonah from the watery depths and, eventually, deliver him to dry land.
Not one to be told twice, Jonah got up from the beach, wrung out his clothes, and headed straight toward the city of Nineveh--and what a time of evangelism there was! The thousands of people living there were ready to hear the message. As soon as Jonah told them that unless they repented God would destroy their city, they wasted no time. Young and old, rich and poor alike put on sackcloth and began a fast of repentance and grief over their sins. Even the king rose from his throne and exchanged his fine robes for sackcloth and went outside to sit in ashes. He proclaimed a city-wide fast, calling for every man and beast to repent and turn to the Lord.
And God heard their cry.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:10
I once attended a church that called for its members to head out one sunny Sunday afternoon and make contact with people in the surrounding neighborhoods. The day was carefully organized, tracts and pamphlets distributed to the parishioners, and instructions issued on what to say--and what not to say--to invite these people to become a part of the local church body.
After the Sunday morning worship service and the ubiquitous potluck meal, a large number of the members fanned out to knock on doors and, ostensibly, demonstrate Christian love and affection in an attempt to bring these lost souls into the church and a relationship with Christ.
While the actual results of the canvas have left my memory, one personal result has not. I recall most vividly the reaction expressed by one member--a deacon and usher--upon his return that afternoon to the church building. With a grimace he expressed in no uncertain terms that the last thing he wanted was for those people to become members of his church. He volunteered that he'd just as soon move away as permit his church to become, shall we say, polluted by such as those living in the immediate vicinity.
Witnessing God's forgiveness of the people of Nineveh, Jonah was horrified that God would be so quickly generous with lowly gentiles. Sounding very much like one of his predecessors, Elijah, Jonah plopped himself down in the dust and pouted,
"Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." Jonah 4:3
All the way around, Jonah made a poor showing for himself. First he runs away from God's commission, then, after he finally obeys and delivers the message given, he gets angry at God for showing grace toward a repentant people. He was a Jew, one of God's chosen people, and a prophet of the Lord. But when given the opportunity, Jonah showed no enthusiasm for service. He had salvation, and that was all that mattered.
With many of us there is a feeling that since we have accepted Christ as Lord--since we have ensured our eternal salvation--we can now just lean back, resting comfortably in the arms of God's grace, and cast a blind eye to any responsibility in His kingdom. All around us there are souls needing to be introduced to Him, there are jobs to be filled, talents and gifts to be expended in His name--there is so much work to be done within and without the kingdom, but we let it all parade by, as if we've already met the totality of our responsibilities.
We have become so fearful of the concept of 'works' (placing it all too conveniently in a category in opposition to salvation by grace) that we run screaming from anyone suggesting that we might have such an obligation.
What is our opinion of marriages in which one or both parties expend little or no effort beyond the initial "I do"? What do we think of people who declare undying devotion, then are never seen again?
It's true that when we come to Christ there is no bargain struck, no quid pro quo. When we repent of our sins in all candor and honesty, the deed is done. That's it. Nothing more is required from us. God does not keep a ledger in which there is a pre-ordained total at the bottom of our personal column; our works are never tallied against that total to see if we will eventually qualify for a place in His eternity.
But just because there is no goal we must reach, that's not to say there are to be no works. And that's not to say God keeps no ledger.
The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 1 Cor. 3:8-9
The Lord certainly does tally up our works, and there will come a day when those works will be judged.
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Cor. 3:12-15
God has gone out of His way to invest Himself in our lives. He literally soiled His hands to create human life in the first place, and He shed His own blood on the cross so that human life might know eternity with Him. Might it be only proper for each of us to invest something of ourselves in His life?
"As long as there is breath in our bodies, let us serve Christ. As long as we can think, as long as we can speak, as long as we can work, let us serve Him. Let us even serve Him with our last gasp. And, if it be possible, let us try to set some work going that will glorify Him when we are dead and gone. Let us scatter some seed that may spring up when we are sleeping beneath the hillock in the cemetery." Spurgeon
"What is my being but for Thee,
Its sure support, its noblest end;
Thy ever-smiling face to see,
And serve the cause of such a Friend."
There was no greater shame for the ancient Hebrew woman than to have failed to give birth. A married woman without children was disgraced in her community, and the recipient of much derision; she was considered cursed of God. A woman with a barren womb had but one prayer on her lips: "O Lord, give me a child!"
At times the shame of barrenness would be compounded by the woman having to live in a home that included a second wife for the husband--one who could and did bear children for him. This was the humiliation borne by Sarai, after Abram had a son by her maid, Hagar. Living in the same household was now a woman who had not only slept with her husband, but who had given him the child she had been unable to provide.
This was also the life for Hannah, wife of Elkanah, from the hill country of Ephraim.
He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 1 Samuel 1:2
Year after year Hannah suffered the ridicule of the younger wife.
And because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 1 Samuel 1:6-7
Hannah at least had the love of a good man. Elkanah did his best to compensate for his first wife's emptiness by doting on her, declaring his devotion for her--even supplying her with double portions when the family would go to the sanctuary for the annual sacrifices. But to no avail; Hannah was still miserable.
One year, while the family worshipped at the temple in Shiloh, Hannah, sick of soul over the Lord's decision to close her womb, cried out to Him in the privacy of her heart.
"O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." 1 Samuel 1:11
"When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased."
C. S. Lewis
Vows are easily spoken--especially when one is mired in the depths of despair. Promises are easily made--especially to an invisible God.
How many soldiers under fire have pledged frantic vows to a God who would save their life? How many pilots have uttered vows of devotion, if only a merciful God would help their plummeting plane land safely? How many people have promised generous offerings or commitments of time and resources, if God would only answer their desperate prayer in the affirmative?
And how many people, once God has answered their prayer and delivered them to a place of safety, have quickly forgotten the pledge?
Hannah kept her vow to the Lord. God answered her prayer, and in due time she gave birth to a son and named him Samuel, which means 'heard of God.'
As soon as the boy was weaned (two to three years later), Hannah traveled to Shiloh and brought her son to Eli the priest.
And she said to him, "As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord." 1 Samuel 1:26-28
Surely there was no possession more precious to Hannah than her first son, Samuel. All her married life she had prayed for the Lord to permit her children of her own. And who would have blamed her if, after all that, she had then held onto her first born.
Yet after all those years of waiting--after all those years of ridicule and shame--her love and devotion for the Lord prevailed, and she gladly gave him back, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. Under no other compulsion, she offered back to God the very best she had.
This kind of selfless devotion and service is not commonplace--but where does it say that the Christian should settle for being common? The very reason for our faith--the unique and selfless death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--demands of us uncommon devotion.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Cor. 8:9
Far too often there is a certain blandness, a sterility about people's faith. Where holy and eternal God happily digs His hands down into the soil of our lives, getting dirt under His fingernails, far too many of us go out of our way to keep our hands perfectly clean and manicured in His service.
God works through people, and when we serve Him we do so to other people. When we worship Him, we are inevitably drawn closer to those doing the same, and when we serve Him, we do it by serving those who share His name.
This is the essence of the Christian life: Not to receive, but to give.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:25-28
Many people think of the Christian life as a vast warehouse of riches. They think that when they come to Christ and accept that He is the Son of God and their Savior, they are handed over the key to the warehouse where He keeps His wealth. They imagine that once they have inserted the key in the door and entered, they are privileged to a life of unending ease and riches. As long as they remain on earth they must still deal with the temporal irritations that come their way, but they give little concern to much else, secure in the knowledge that in their pocket they hold the key to the door.
In truth, the Christian life is more like an apprenticeship. When a person comes to Christ and accepts Him as Lord of his life, he is given, not a key, but a relationship. The relationship is not one of ease and wealth, but of learning.
Under the tutelage of Christ, we learn of His ways, His methods, His personality, His intentions and purity of heart. We learn that we are to think more highly of others than ourselves; we learn that earthly rewards are fleeting, but heavenly rewards are permanent; and we learn that there is no higher calling than to give of ourselves in His name.
Under Christ's instruction and patient discipline, we slowly--ever so slowly--come to behave like Him, to think like Him, and to look like Him. Words spill from our lips that sound like Him, and others begin to associate us with Him, without being told.
And by living every day with Jesus, we slowly learn His most valuable lesson, that to live the Christian life is to live like Him--and to live like Him, is to live with a servant's heart .. getting dirt under our fingernails.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3
"Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: 'I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.'" Jeremiah 2:2
Am I as spontaneously kind to God as I used to be, or am I only expecting God to be kind to me? How much kindness have I shown Him in the past week? Has my life been a good reflection on His reputation? Am I as filled to overflowing with love for Jesus Christ as I was in the beginning, when I went out of my way to prove my devotion to Him? Does He ever find me pondering the time when I cared only for Him? Is that where I am now, or have I chosen man's wisdom over true love for Him? Am I so in love with Him that I take no thought for where He might lead me? Or am I watching to see how much respect I get as I measure how much service I should give Him?
For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8
"How many of us are willing to spend every bit of our nervous, mental, moral, and spiritual energy for Jesus Christ? That is what God means when He uses the word witness. But it takes time, so be patient with yourself.
"Why has God left us on this earth? Is it simply to be saved and sanctified? No, it is to be at work in service to Him. Am I willing to be broken bread and poured-out wine for Him? Am I willing to be of no value to this age or this life except for one purpose and one alone--to be used to disciple men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"My life of service to the Lord is the way I say 'thank you' to Him for His inexpressibly wonderful salvation."
Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. 2 Cor. 12:14-15 NKJV
"Natural human love expects something in return. But Paul is saying, 'It doesn't really matter to me whether you love me or not. I am willing to be completely destitute anyway; willing to be poverty-stricken, not just for your sakes, but also that I may be able to get you to God.' Paul's idea of service was the same as our Lord's. He did not care how high the cost was to himself--he would gladly pay it. It was a joyful thing to Paul.
"The institutional church's idea of a servant of God is not at all like Jesus Christ's idea. His idea is that we serve Him by being the servants of others. Jesus ... said that in His kingdom the greatest one would be the servant of all (Mat. 23:11). The real test of a saint is not one's willingness to preach the gospel, but one's willingness to do something like washing the disciples' feet--that is, being willing to do those things that seem unimportant in human estimation but count as everything to God. It was Paul's delight to spend his life for God's interests in other people, and he did not care what it cost. But before we will serve, we stop to ponder our personal and financial concerns--'What if God wants me to go over there? And what about my salary? What is the climate like there? Who will take care of me? A person must consider these things?'
"All that is an indication that we have reservations about serving God. But the apostle Paul had no conditions or reservations. Paul focused his life on Jesus Christ's idea of a New Testament saint; that is, not one who merely proclaims the gospel, but one who becomes broken bread and poured-out wine in the hands of Jesus Christ for the sake of others." Oswald Chambers 
Issue No. 67
[1.] The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1984), Frank E.Gaebelein, General Editor, p.127 (on Romans 12:1). (return to footnote 1)
[2.] The Train, Copyright 1985-1995 David S. Lampel, a stewardship sketch from the His Company Catalogue, p20, Order #SK4. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] For a detailed word study of this verse, get Word Study on Romans 12:1 at http://members.gnn.com/dlwinter/library/library.htm (available soon). (return to footnote 3)
[4.] 2 Kings 14:25. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] dag, dawg, Hebrew Stg 1709; or (fully) da'g, dawg; (Neh. 13:16), from Hebrew 1711 (dagah); a fish (as prolific); or perhaps rather from Hebrew 1672 (da'ag) (as timid); but still better from Hebrew 1672 (da'ag) (in the sense of squirming, i.e. moving by the vibratory action of the tail); a fish (often used collectively) :- fish. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Genesis 2:7. (return to footnote 6)
[7.] Genesis 16:1-4. (return to footnote 7)
[8.] 1 Samuel 1:5. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] Shemuw'el, shem-oo-ale', Hebrew Stg 8050; from the passive participle of Hebrew 8085 (shama') and Hebrew 410 ('el); heard of God; Shemu l, the name of three Israelites :- Samuel, Shemuel. (return to footnote 9)
[10.] Exodus 16:20. (return to footnote 10)
[11.] All quotations (including the list of questions) in this section are from My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House, 1992). (return to footnote 11)
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