IT TAKES MORE THAN CHAINS

“And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.”

Mark 5:2-4

The Bible records for us one of the most dramatic conversions imaginable. This demon-possessed man could not be controlled, even with chains. The Scriptures declare “that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him.” Nothing could subdue this man. But Jesus drove the evil spirits from the man, saved his soul, and made a new person out of him. After his conversion, he was found sitting, clothed, and in his right mind.

Conversion does for man what no social program can do. The woeful condition of this demonized sinner is a picture of the bondage of sin in every man. What this man needed was more than chains. He didn’t need to be bound; he needed to be set free.

It takes more than chains to make a man what he ought to be. This illustrates the programs of our society trying to deal with the unleashed violence and wickedness of our generation. Drugs are produced to help subdue irrational behavior. Rules are legislated to try to curtail criminal activity. Treatment programs are prescribed which condition the addicted to believe that he will never be anything other than what he has always been. Prisons and jails are constructed to restrain the violent or habitual offender. The truth is that none of these measures can solve the problem. Incarceration is a necessary part of the judicial system, but it only deals with the symptoms, not the root problem.

Only Jesus can deliver the sinner from the sin that binds him. This is true for every life. The unconverted need the Gospel of Christ and the transforming power of salvation. We know and love many that desperately need to be born again. Some are not bound in violent behavior or criminal activity, but they are equally enslaved by their pride or trust in a false religion that holds no hope. May we never stop praying for them and giving them the Gospel of Jesus’ saving grace. Chains alone are not enough; it takes Christ to redeem the lost sinner.

TEAMWORK

“For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.”

I Corinthians 3:9

Teamwork has been defined as “the work or activity of a number of persons acting in close association as members of a unit.” Paul was describing the work of the Lord in and through the church at Corinth as teamwork. Several important components are included in the text that make up that definition.

Initially, we see that there is work or activity involved. In describing ministry, the Lord uses the word labourers. Teamwork involves work. Every member of the team should be contributing toward the objectives of the team. There is much work to be done in the service of the Lord. What a difference it would make if every child of God was eager to serve the Lord with his talents and treasure! Too often it is a minority of the people who are doing a majority of the work.

Another practical bit of instruction about teamwork is seen in the word together. Team members must work in close association. Members of the team should cooperate with one another, help each other, and support each other. The more we work together, and serve as a unit, the more effective we will be. As individual churches, the body of Christ, we are to function in harmony. True teamwork requires unity.

In team sports, we sometimes see examples of team members who are not team players. They are primarily concerned with their individual achievements, rather than striving for the success of the team. As church workers, we have common objectives rather than many individual and unrelated goals. It is refreshing to see teams that cooperate, rather than a group of dysfunctional individual performers. Serving the Lord through His churches requires teamwork. We are working together as a team to see His objectives realized. As team members, we can accomplish much more than we could as individuals. It is true on the job, in the home, and in the church. We need to work together as a team.

Another encouraging thing about this team effort is that we are laboring together “with God.” Not only are we working together as a team, but also God is working with us. Imagine that, having God as our team Captain. We are not only serving the Lord, but we are also serving with the Lord. How could we ever lose with God on our team?

CHRIST REVEALED THROUGH US

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.”

Galatians 1:15, 16

When we think about the work of God’s grace in our lives, we might consider it as His work in us and then His work through us. Paul used these words, “To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.”

There is a definite and necessary progression to these two aspects of God’s transforming work in us. For Him to effectively work through us in ministry, He must be allowed to work in us, in salvation and ongoing maturity. This progressive work in us will not be completed until we are taken to glory; then we will finally become like our Lord. God’s activity in our hearts will result in His being manifested through us, or as Paul said, “that I might preach him among the heathen.”

There are three distinct effects of what God does in our lives. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for His name to be glorified. Secondly, it benefits the believer as we experience His life-changing salvation. Finally, it touches others, as the Lord works through us to influence a needy world.

Some professors of faith in Christ have the self-centered notion that salvation is only about us. Therefore, they behave as though it is acceptable for a person who claims to be saved to live with little regard for serving Christ and others. This logic is foreign to the Word of God. For Paul, the natural by-product of Christ making Himself real in our lives will be for Him to make Himself known through our lives.

Jesus is the Light of the world. As He brings light into our lives, that light is revealed in us, that it might also shine through us for others to see. Christ will be seen through our lives as He conforms us to what He would have us to be. Others can see the evidence of His work in us. He is likewise revealed through us as we testify of God’s goodness and grace in our lives. He is also revealed through us as we serve Him and others in various areas of ministry. He reveals Himself in us that He might be revealed through us in preaching, teaching, singing, and serving. May we be encouraged to continue to see Christ revealed in us, that He might then be revealed through us, all for His glory.

CHRIST REVEALED IN US

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.”

Galatians 1:15, 16

Paul always made much of the work of God’s grace in the life of the believer. God calls us by His grace, saves us by grace, and uses us by grace. Christ is made known to us by grace, is revealed in us by grace, and is manifested through us by grace. Jesus is revealed in our lives, and then He is revealed through our lives. Paul’s words are, “To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.” God works in us that He might then work through us.

This is, in a sentence, how the Christian life works. Christ is revealed in a person’s life and then through that person’s life. No matter how much a person may want God to use him, working through him for His glory, it cannot happen until He first does something in him. Likewise, if a person is truly saved, meaning that God has done and is doing a work in him, He intends to do a work through him.

The work of grace in our lives begins with salvation. When a sinner heeds the call and responds by repentance and faith, trusting Jesus alone for salvation, he or she is born again by the Spirit of God. A miracle takes place in the life of that person as he instantly and eternally becomes a new creature in Christ. This is the initial work of Christ in the believer, but the work of God in us does not end there. This is the beginning of His transforming work.

Christ’s work in us continues with the process of sanctification. There are many who profess to know the Lord, and yet are not concerned about their spiritual growth or lack of spiritual progress. They appear to have little interest in the continuing work of maturity God wants to continue in them. If we truly belong to Christ, His commitment is to conform us to the image of His Son.

Paul wrote in Galatians 4:19, “I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” The apostle wanted to see the work of Christ continue in the Galatian believers. He longed to see Christ formed in them. It was his passion to see those who claimed to know the Lord to become increasingly influenced and transformed by God’s work of grace in them. If we want Christ to be revealed through us in service and ministry, He must first be revealed in us.

TRUTH WILL BE TESTED

“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.”

Hebrews 10:32

The writer of Hebrews was communicating to a people that were very familiar with reproaches and afflictions. In doing so, he urged them to recall the days when, “after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions.” The word illuminated means “to shine light on or be made to see.” After they were illuminated, they were faced with great afflictions.

Have you ever experienced something similar? After you experienced some work of illuminating grace in your life – seeing something you had not seen before or seeing it in a different light – you were immediately met by a trial of some sort. This seems to be one of those principles, though perhaps not universal, but nonetheless very common. After you were “illuminated” or enlightened, after you saw the truth, you found yourself in “a great fight of afflictions.”

When God shows us something or gives us light, and we respond by obeying or walking in that light, we should not be surprised if that step of obedience is tested in some way. This often happens when a person is saved. He finds himself facing trials or temptations that he never experienced previously. Because he does not expect this, he may become discouraged or wonder if God is really there for him. The same thing can be true when a believer makes a new commitment to obey some truth that God has revealed or takes back some ground previously surrendered. Almost immediately, it seems that his commitment is being put to the test. TRUTH WILL BE TESTED.

There are numerous examples of this in the Scripture. When Moses announced that the Israelites would be leaving Egypt, things immediately got much worse. After Jesus was baptized, He was led into forty days of intense temptation. Soon after Joseph announced his dream, he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. You see, it is a very common occurrence.

We should remember that Satan will try to discourage us when we are seeking to step out by faith and obey God. Let’s not allow the affliction to hinder us. Actually, God may be allowing us to be tested to demonstrate that our faith is genuine. When the truths and principles of Scripture are tested and proven in our lives, our faith is strengthened and Christ is glorified in us.

BE YE NOT AS YOUR FATHERS

“The LORD hath been sore displeased with your fathers. Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. Be ye not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings: but they did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD.”

Zechariah 1:2-4

The spiritual negligence of the nation of Israel is commonly known. They were consistently inconsistent in their devotion to God. They would turn to God when He severely chastised them; soon after, would return to their careless and rebellious ways. God’s message to Zechariah was that He was “sore displeased” with their fathers who “did not hear, nor hearken unto me, saith the LORD.” He admonished the people, “Be ye not as your fathers.”

We know there is a natural tendency to be like our parents. This is sometimes a good thing. Some were reared in solid Christian homes and were taught by godly parents who were great examples to follow. We should certainly thank God for the great privilege of being influenced by parents or grandparents who were sincere believers and proper role models for us. However, many did not have that opportunity. Some were saved as adults or teenagers and knew nothing of a Christian home environment. Others may have had parents who claimed to be saved but were not committed to living for the Lord.

Zechariah’s message, “Be ye not as your fathers,” contains great hope and direction for those who want to live more consistently for the Lord than their parents did. If God tells us that we are to be different from our fathers, we can be assured that it is possible to live differently from our fathers. It is fairly common for people to believe that they are somehow locked into a cycle or pattern of undesirable behavior because of the lifestyle of their parents. This is simply not true.

If we came from a past with no godly heritage, we can be different from our fathers. How is that possible? Zechariah tells us that we must turn from our evil ways, turn to the Lord and hearken to His Word. The Scripture promised that if they would turn to God, He would turn to them, and they would not have to be as their fathers.

WHO AM I?

“Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?

II Samuel 7:18

David had revealed to Nathan the prophet that he wanted to build a permanent temple, or house of God. God instructed Nathan to tell David that the king’s son, who would succeed David as king, would actually fulfill this dream of David’s. God also informed David that his house and the kingdom would be established forever. When David heard these words, his first response was, “Who am I, O Lord GOD?” David was overwhelmed that God had been so good to him, and he knew that he was undeserving of God’s great goodness. Why would God choose David to be the one to be so mightily blessed?

At times, we have certainly felt the same way. Who am I? Why have we been so wonderfully blessed? Who am I that I could be a resident of this great country, and enjoy all the freedoms and benefits associated with that privilege? Who am I that I would be able to be exposed to the Gospel of Christ from an early age? Who am I that I could have in my possession a copy of the very Word of God? Who am I that I could know with absolute certainty that eternal salvation is found through faith in Christ alone and that any other message is a false hope? Who am I that Christ would suffer and die on the cross for my sins? Who am I that I might have the promise that all my sins are forgiven? Who am I that I could be a member of a church where Christ is honored and the Bible is preached and the Spirit of God is working? Who am I that I could have the assurance, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that one day I will reside in Heaven where there is no pain or sickness or separation? Who am I that I will never experience the reality of hell for even a split second?

It should humble us to think of how good God has been to us. It is not because we merited these blessings because of something we have done. We never earned or deserved any of these great gifts that have been promised to us. We are a most blessed people. Who are we? We are the children of the living God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. We are justified by His grace, redeemed by his blood, and adopted into God’s eternal family. We are mightily and everlastingly blessed, all because of the magnificent goodness of God.

A FAMINE OF HEARING GOD’S WORD

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”

Amos 8:11

Amos was a prophet to the nation of Israel. He proclaimed to the rebellious nation that they would be taken into captivity and led out of their homeland. Of course, the reason these people would be taken captive was their refusal to hear and heed the messages God was sending them. Amos announced that a day would come when there would be a famine in the land “of hearing the words of the LORD.”

God was letting them know that the day was coming when God’s Word would be absent from their lives. A famine is a horrible thing. To be without food and starving to death or to be without water and dying of thirst-these are dreadful conditions. For God to be silent or for there to be no faithful proclamation and explanation of Scripture would also be a horrible experience. These, who had rejected the Word of God, would one day be without the message of truth.

This presents a sobering reality, in addition to the historical message to Israel. For those who resist hearing God’s Word and find His Truth an unwelcome intruder, there will come a time when they will no longer have to be bothered by the Bible’s message. Like Israel, who after continuing to rebel against the commands of Scripture and ignoring the warnings of the prophets, eventually found themselves in a world without the “words of the LORD.”

Others will one day find that God has silenced His call for them to repent. Many will one day long for a Bible sermon or an opportunity to turn from sin and selfishness, but in hell there will be a famine “of hearing the words of the LORD.” We also know of nations where the Bible was once preached soundly and believed. However, revival has since departed and churches have accepted formality and ritual instead of preaching. To find a clear presentation of the Gospel or a call for repentance and trusting in the blood of Calvary alone for salvation is a scarcity in those lands.

What about America? Is it not true that the preaching of the pure Word of God is becoming harder and harder to find? Why has old-fashioned Bible preaching been replaced with musical presentations, seminars, drama, and other forms of entertainment? Could it be that we are already headed for such a famine?

HE WITHDREW HIMSELF

“And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.”

Luke 5:16

Jesus came to this earth to help people. He came to seek and to save the lost and to give His life as a ransom for many. We would say that He was in the “people business.” He healed the multitudes and taught the masses the Word of God, and He also gave individuals His undivided attention. Sometimes He would spend special times of instruction with His closest followers. He was available at virtually all times to tend to the needs of hurting humanity.

Was there ever a time when He was not available to the people? The answer is found in our text. There were times when our Savior would pull Himself away from the seemingly endless sea of people, that He might pray and spend time with His Heavenly Father. “He withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.” If Jesus needed to withdraw Himself from others, seeking solitude for times of prayer and fellowship with the Father, what about you and me? Should we not also withdraw ourselves from time to time? If Jesus needed this season of prayer, we need it more.

There are any number of reasons we fail to make these times of devotion and prayer a priority. Perhaps our schedule gets overcrowded, or we wrongfully feel that we can manage without regular times of spiritual retreat, or other obligations and responsibilities cry out for our attention. Whatever the case, we need to make the necessary adjustments to provide time alone with the Lord.

We notice in the language of Scripture that Jesus “withdrew himself.” He took responsibility and initiative. It was a decision that He made. The same is true for us; we have to withdraw ourselves. No one can make that decision for us. It is an activity that we have to treat as a priority. There were other things crying out for attention in Jesus’ world, but He chose to withdraw for some much needed time of prayer. We must do the same. There needs to be time set aside to be alone with the Lord. Ideally, we should try to reserve some time at the beginning and ending of each day to converse with our Father.

One “built in” weekly opportunity to withdraw ourselves is the Lord’s Day. Here is a day of rest from normal secular demands and a day of worship, study, and prayer. We must recognize the importance of such times and guard them; otherwise, they will be lost in other activity.

OBSERVING LYING VANITIES

“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”

Jonah 2:8

Jonah was praying to God from within the belly of the whale. Three days of chastisement had been working on the heart and attitude of the disobedient preacher. God heard Jonah’s prayer, released him to dry ground, and gave him a second opportunity to carry God’s Word to Nineveh. In Jonah’s prayer, he stated, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”

Tremendous truth is contained in his renewed perspective. Lying vanities are empty and deceitful bits of information. Satan is skillful in sending us lying vanities. Jonah had been guilty of observing some of these lies. Examples of lying vanities would be thoughts like, “God is not good,” or “Sin can bring fulfillment,” or “God would never forgive me or give me another chance.” We err when we observe these lies by taking them to heart or believing them. When we believe a lie, there can be damaging consequences.

One result when people observe lying vanities is that they “forsake their own mercy.” It is assuring to know that there is mercy available to us, but Jonah tells us that when we believe lying vanities, we forsake or turn away from the mercy or goodness God has for us. Jonah rebelled against God’s will and fled from the Lord’s presence. In his mind, Jonah must have been convinced that God’s will was not best. He believed things that were not true. When we observe lying vanities, these lies become, in our minds, as though they were true. The more a person believes a lie, the truer it becomes in his mind. We must learn to recognize and reject lying vanities. False imaginations can lead us far from the will and ways of God. Many people have been deceived by these lying vanities, and like Jonah, they paid a great price for their spiritual detours.

How can we recognize lying vanities? We must bring our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ and make certain that the information we believe is in agreement with the Word of God. The standard of truth is the Scripture. If the things we have believed in our minds are not consistent with the Bible, then they are lies. If we can discern lying vanities, we will not observe or believe them. We forsake, or forfeit, God’s goodness in our lives when we observe lying vanities. As we grow in the Lord, may we learn to compare spiritual things with spiritual and reject information that contradicts truth.