Break Every Chain

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pD2zIuiC2g

 

According to the book of Acts in chapter 12, Peter was arrested for preaching the gospel and was bound in chains. He was put in prison. Many followers were praying for him. The scripture says in verse 6:
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

God intervened, and the chains that had him bound fell away.

In Acts chapter 16, Paul and Silas were arrested after Paul commanded a demon to come out of a servant girl who had been following Paul and his companions for days, and telling the crowds repeatedly,, “These men are servants of the Most High God proclaiming the way of salvation”. After several days of this, Paul became so annoyed that he turned to the girl and commanded the demon to come out of her. When the slave girl’s owners realized they could no longer make money off of her, they had Paul and Silas arrested.

So there they are. Paul and Silas are in jail, it’s the middle of the night, and the Bible says they prayed and sang hymns:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.

God intervened. The prison doors were opened and everyone’s chains fell off, not just those that bound Paul and Silas. The jailer in this account was about to take his own life because he thought everyone had escaped. But Paul stopped him and this event became a personal call to repentance for this unnamed jailer. Not only was he saved, we’re told his entire household was saved. The jailer saw how God had removed the chains of bondage and set prisoners free and in turn, he and his family were released from their own chains of bondage, whatever that may have been.

Also, it’s important not to lose sight of the other person who was set free in that account, the slave girl. She was set free from the demon that had her in bondage. We don’t know what became of her after all this took place. Did she call on Jesus like the jailer? We don’t know. We only know that she was demon possessed and that’s never good. It would have eventually destroyed her because Satan is like a roaring lion, always looking for someone to devour. Whether she accepted or rejected Christ, we can reasonably conclude that she was freed from the demon’s hold for a time. And the opportunity to call on the One who has the power to break all chains forever was certainly presented to her.

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. (from Luke 8)

 
In these accounts, we see how how Paul and Peter and Silas were literally released from chains of bondage. They were actual chains of iron. In the account of the demon possessed man Jesus encountered, chains could not hold the man with the demons. On our own, we do not have the power to restrict or control the powers of hell. Satan is a powerful enemy, not to be underestimated or overestimated to be sure, but still, far more powerful than mortal men. Even though he was able to break free from ordinary chains, that man was bound nonetheless. Like the jailer, like the demon possessed slave girl, that man was in bondage. He was bound spiritually, and it took the power of God to set him free.

I would venture to guess that Peter’s experience made a lasting impression on him. Perhaps he used the experience of being bound in chains to illustrate the danger of being bound by sin. In his second epistle, Peter wrote: “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” He understood what it meant to be bound, both physically and spiritually.

Peter also knew that those chains, the chains of spiritual bondage, can only broken by the power of God. When Jesus stood to read in the synagogue, He read these words from the scrolls of Isaiah the prophet:

Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen.
He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not fight or shout
or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
And his name will be the hope
of all the world.

HIS NAME WILL BE THE HOPE OF ALL THE WORLD!

By believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. (John 20:31)

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ (Acts22:16)

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

We’re no different than the jailer, or Peter, or Paul, or anyone else who lives apart from Christ. We were all bound by something. But those chains were broken forever when we cried out to Jesus to be saved.

Like the words of the song in the link at the top of the page, there is power in the name of Jesus. It is a power that does break every chain, and sets us free.

 

Our Perfect World

I’m sure all of you have heard of the Big Bang theory (the theory of how the universe came into being, not the TV show). There are scientists who’ve worked out the mathematics to try and calculate the odds of a perfectly balanced universe emerging from an explosion as immense as the one believed (by them) to have created the known universe. Their conclusion? The odds are incalculable. What does it mean though, to say that the universe was perfectly balanced when it was created? It means that as all matter was being created in the moments after this big bang, this explosion, the mass of all the matter that was created in that instant had to be absolutely perfect. If the weight of all the matter in the universe had been off by as much as just a few grains of sand, the universe would not exist. Just two or three grains of sand too many and the universe would have simply kept expanding and blown itself apart in the same instant. Just a few grains of sand too few, the universe would have expanded and then it would have instantly imploded right back into oblivion. If the scientists are even close to being correct, it just confirms for me that there had to be absolute perfection during the whole process of creation, a perfection that could only have been achieved by the hand of an almighty God.

Here’s something else to think about.  What if the earth was too close to or too far from the sun? It would either be too hot or too cold to support life. The earth’s distance from the sun is precise. Not only that, but the revolution of the earth around sun and the tilt of the earth’s axis are exactly as they need to be in order for there to be different seasons of the year. While some of us would like for it to be fall or spring year round, the changing of the seasons is vital to our survival. Weather patterns are affected by the changing of the seasons and I don’t have to tell anyone who grew up a farm how that impacts crop production all over the the world. The seasons change at just the right time so that crops can be planted and harvested at the right times.

The rotation of the earth on its axis is also exactly as it needs to be. If the earth rotated just a little slower, we would freeze to death at nighttime and burn to a crisp during the day. And some scientists say that if the earth spun a little faster, the planet would be in danger of spinning itself apart from centrifugal force.

The placement of the moon in relation to the earth is perfect. Think about the impact it would have on the world’s oceans if the moon wasn’t perched exactly where it is. If the moon was too far out, there would be no tides at all. On the other hand, if the moon was too close, the gravitational forces would be so severe that the changes in the ocean tides would be drastic and unpredictable. The tides would rise so high and then retreat so far that it would eventually eat away all the land masses of the world. That’s not to mention the effect that would have on aquatic life. The waves on the surfaces of the world’s oceans would be so violent, any ship that tried to put out to sea would be swamped. There could be no commerce between the continents. No ships means no commerce and no ships means no way to harvest fish from the ocean in large enough numbers to help support the world’s food supply.

But because the earth and the heavens are all God’s creation, there is a balance that’s so perfect it actually takes more faith to believe that all of this is some sort of incredible cosmic accident than to believe in God the creator.

In the book of Colossians, chapter 1 verse 17, the Bible clearly tells us it is God who maintains this balance:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Psalm 75 verse 3 tells us more or less the exact same thing:

When the earth and all its people quake,

it is I who hold its pillars firm.

That’s a very profound truth. The Lord holds all things together, right down to the individual molecule. So when the creator of the universe stood up in a boat and told the wind and sea to be still, that was mere child’s play for Him. When Satan pressed upon Jesus to throw Himself off the top of the Temple to prove that He was truly the Son of God, Jesus refused to humor him in the least. Yet Jesus showed his authority over the gravitational forces He created by walking on water. Jesus showed that he had complete command over all created things when He looked at a fig tree and told it to dry up and never produce fruit again, and it withered instantly. He who holds it all together in perfect balance has complete command and authority over it.

The Bible says in the first chapter of Genesis that God spoke all of creation into existence. He made something out of nothing. I don’t know if that means everything just suddenly appeared. Jesus made bread and fish appear out of thin air. He Himself vanished and reappeared several times after the resurrection. So, I don’t know if everything just appeared in an instant, or if there was some enormous explosion that brought the universe into existence in an instant as many in the scientific community theorize. Typically whenever there’s an explosion of any kind, it usually means something’s being destroyed, not created. But God could have used an explosion of that magnitude to create the universe. It’s well within His abilities.

I’m not trying to spark a debate about the validity of the Big Bang theory. In fact, it’s a sad irony that some of the scientific minds that acknowledge the perfect order of creation….do not believe in the one who created it. But if there was a big bang, I’m simply saying God has the power to make something like that happen if He so chooses. Remember, nothing is impossible for God. The universe was created with everything exactly as it needed to be. That’s no accident. That was the work of a perfect God. But while the work of creation was perfect, we all know His creation was stained by sin. Fortunately for us, God had a perfect plan for our salvation. The One who holds all things together…holds us…in His hands!

The Minds of the Faithful

Most of us have shared our story with someone and told them how we came to be saved. And in the course of sharing our faith, there was a point in the story when we described the moment we prayed and asked Jesus to come into our hearts.  And we usually go on to talk about what it means when a Christian gives his or her heart to Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that we didn’t just ask Jesus to come into our hearts at the moment we were saved, we alsogave our hearts to Jesus. But as important as it is to give our hearts to  Jesus, we must give our MINDS to Jesus as well.

In Isaiah chapter 29, the prophet Isaiah spoke of men who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. I think the reason why their hearts were far from God is because their minds were on things that were not of God. So in judgement, God told Isaiah that He would pour out  a spirit of deep sleep on the people of Judah which would effectively cause everyone to be unable to perceive the words being spoken to them by the prophet. It didn’t matter whether they were educated or uneducated, or wise or foolish. God would supernaturally cloud their judgement. It would be as if they were intoxicated, according to the scripture in verse 9 of Isaiah 29.

Such is the power of God, that He can exercise that kind of control over the mind. The scriptural evidence for this is undeniable. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his garden exalting himself, telling himself how great he was in his own eyes. Before he even finished speaking those words, he instantly became insane…by the power of God. The scripture in Daniel chapter 4 says he ate grass like the oxen.

Saul battled bouts of insanity after he disobeyed God in his battle against the Amalakites. Ultimately, it resulted in the loss of his kingdom.

And sometime in the future at the beginning of the tribulation, the book of 2 Thessalonians says God will send a powerful delusion to cloud the minds of those who can not bear sound doctrine. In that time, God will withdraw His grace because they refused to believe. They will be given over to Satan.

So yes, God can control the minds of men either for our benefit or to our detriment. In Romans 1:28 the word says that since men did not like to retain the knowledge of God (the NLT says since men thought it foolish to acknowledge God), He gave them over to a debase, or reprobate mind. In other words, God gave them over to the wickedness that they desired. Their minds certainly were not set on things of God or Heaven. On the other hand, in Luke 24 verse 45 (this was when Jesus was speaking to His disciples after His resurrection), the scripture says, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

Paul understood. He knew what it meant to give our minds to God. He wrote about this at great length in several of his Epistles. For instance, in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 4, he wrote, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

And in Romans chapter 8 Paul wrote, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your….mind.” In fact, He said this was “the greatest of all the commandments”, to worship God with all our hearts and souls and minds.

Will our thoughts stray at times? Of course. Will there be distractions? Certainly. But it’s much easier to capture those stray thoughts and filter out the distractions when God has our minds as well as our hearts and souls. For Christians, there can be no other way! It’s better to give our minds to God, than for God to give our minds over to the enemy.

In Response to the Paris Terror Attacks

As the news unfolded about the terrorist attacks in Paris, my mind went back a few decades to when our air and naval forces were dispatched to launch air strikes against Libya in response to terror attacks against Americans during the Reagan administration. Before the attack on Libya, the United States asked the French government (along with the the governments of Spain and Italy) for permission to fly our F-111 bombers over French airspace, a request that was denied. As a result, our bombers had to fly around France which added many more hours to their flight time on their way to and from Libya.

In 2001, I recall seeing images of French citizens cheering on 9-11 when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. As it is in our own country, most of the French veterans of World War II have passed away. The generations that followed seem to have very little regard for the sacrifices made by Americans liberate France from Nazi tyranny.

Now that they’re on the receiving end of Islamic terror attacks, the temptation is to gloat. I’ve already seen a few disparaging comments on some internet message boards, along with a lot of indifference. But we’re Christians. We cannot be indifferent to this. And the Bible clearly tells us we’re not gloat over the misfortunes of others. Proverbs17 verse 5 warns us:

….whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

And Proverbs 24 verses 17 and 18 tell us:

 Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
 or the Lord will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from them.

While the French are certainly not our enemies, the friendship between our two countries has been strained for quite some time. Many in this country do not care since it happened “over there”. But as I said, we’re Christians. We’re to be different. Our response is not to be like that of the unrepentant. As Paul wrote to the Philippian church, our gentleness is to be evident to all. What’s in the past is in the past. We’re called to be salt and light, and right now that nation and its people need our prayers. That is the Christian thing to do.

Believing the Evidence

John 20

 

 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Was it unreasonable for Thomas to ask to see the nail marks for himself? Not much is known about Thomas. It may be that he was simply a cautious man by nature. What we do know is that he wanted to see evidence that this person who claimed to be the resurrected Christ was who He said He was. Remember, the disciples had been warned about people who would come claiming to be the Christ, so maybe he was being cautious. But when Thomas saw the evidence, he believed, and Jesus replied, “Because you have seen me, you believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the course of sharing our faith, I’m sure we’ve all encountered people who say they will not believe in God unless He reveals Himself in an unmistakable way. And usually, when that happens, most of us quote the book of Hebrews where it says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see.”  That’s a good passage, but it usually doesn’t win over many skeptics.

Of course, there are pastors and evangelists who have exceptional spiritual gifts who’ve won many to Christ just through the use of passages of scripture alone. Using nothing but the Bible, these rare and gifted individuals seem to have an uncanny knack when it comes to convincing someone of his or her need for a savior. For the majority of us however, it’s not a matter of convincing people to believe in God without evidence. It’s getting them to see the evidence of God’s existence that’s all around them so in turn, they can consider the evidence and come to faith in God based on that evidence. By presenting evidence that can be studied and seen, our aim is to lead lost people to faith in God, who is unseen.

There’s plenty of evidence. We don’t have to stammer and grasp for words when someone like Thomas asks for proof. First and foremost, the most undeniable evidence of God’s existence is His word, the Bible. Even so, many have read the Bible from cover to cover and then rejected every word.  If a person’s heart isn’t right, no evidence is convincing enough.

Then there’s the evidence of conscience. While we cannot come to a full knowledge of God  through conscience alone, there is some limited revelation that comes from that innate sense we have that tells us there is more than just this existence. But people will try to deny that too. They shrug off that inner voice as nothing more than an overactive imagination. Or their consciences become hardened and calloused under the weight of sin and lawlessness.

There’s the evidence that lies in the faith of the disciples and the countless number of believers down through the ages who have suffered martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ. They chose death over renouncing their faith in our Lord. If Christ was not real, no one would die for Him because no one but a madman would die for a lie.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence we can offer in our time is in the lives of followers of Jesus Christ. There is no denying the power of God through the miracle of changed lives. We see peace where there was once anger. We see strength where there used to be weakness. We see contentment where there was frustration. We see hope where there was once nothing but hopelessness. We see ruined lives restored. We see the worst of the worst transformed into champions for God.

And we see this exact same evidence in people from every corner of the world, on all continents, regardless of their race, nationality, language, social standing, etc. How is it that people from all over the world describe the moment of their conversion in almost the exact same way? People in every time zone of the world describe, in nearly identical terms, how they felt a wave of peace and cleansing come over them as the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them the moment they received Christ. That’s the transforming power of Jesus Christ at work in the hearts of His believers, and that is evidence that is too compelling to be ignored.

Jesus didn’t have to show Thomas the nail marks. He didn’t have to prove anything to Thomas. But He did, and we need to follow the example of Jesus when we witness to our own Thomas. To the best of our ability, we must lay out the evidence with patience, and in a spirit of love.