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Denying the Ghost of Christmas Past

In the 1988 film Scrooged, Bill Murray plays a selfish, cynical television executive who is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.  Bitter, disappointed and frustrated, Murray’s character came to the conclusion that Christmas was a fraud.  Far worse than Ebenezer Scrooge, Murray is visited by the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.  These shocking encounters convict Murray’s heart like the wealthy man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  The only difference is that Murray is still alive while the rich man in the story below died.

So the rich man said, ‘Then, father [Abraham], I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may solemnly warn them and witness to them, so that they too will not come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have [the Scriptures given by] Moses and the [writings of the] Prophets; let them listen to them,’ Luke 16:27-29.

Parables are meant to be analogies, hypothetical scenarios to illustrate spiritual truths.  Within this particular story, Jesus details a conversation between Abraham who is in heaven with a desperate rich man pleading his case from hell.  This man asks to be sent back to his family on earth in the form of a ghost, similar to the concept of the ghost of Christmas past.  Despite this man’s concern to save his family from the same eternal fate he is enduring, Abraham vehemently denies this request.  While Abraham references the importance of listening to and studying the words of Old Testament prophets, his reason for saying no is clear.  You must walk by faith, not by sight.

He replied, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent [they will change their old way of thinking and seek God and His righteousness].’ 31 And he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to [the messages of] Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead,’” Luke 16:30-31.

Every Christmas, pastors, priests, reverends and teachers attempt to share a fresh approach to Christmas, coming up with an unique angle or spin.  Of all of the sermons I have heard at Christmas Eve and or Christmas Day services, Abraham’s exchange with this rich man in hell is not one of them.  Human nature makes individuals think, “if I only saw a ghost, speak to the dead or witness a miracle, then I would believe.”  Yet, in reality, you shouldn’t have to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus to believe.  The author of Hebrews references this in Hebrews 6:1-6, supporting Abraham’s excuse for denying a first century visit from the ghost of Christmas past.

by Jay Mankus

What Have I Been Doing?

The older that I get, each year seems to be a carbon copy of the last one.  I start off strong, eating healthy, exercising and spending regular time with God in January.  When spring arrives, I usually let some things slide, struggling with my diet and working out.  By the start of summer, my life resembles a house that hasn’t been cleaned for months.  As I was singing a worship song on Sunday, a spirit of conviction overwhelmed my soul.  Like a still small voice, the Holy Spirit asked, “what have you been doing the past few years?”

I was once alive without [knowledge of] the Law; but when the commandment came [and I understood its meaning], sin became alive and I died [since the Law sentenced me to death], Romans 7:9.

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil, a news reporter from Pittsburgh on assignment.  During his trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Murray get’s stuck in a blizzard, forced to stay another day.  Unfortunately, Murray is caught in a time gap, reliving Groundhog Day over and over again.  To a certain extent, I feel like Bill Murray’s character, trapped by time.  However, while Phil slowly learned to make the most of each day, I keep making the same mistakes year after year.  Like the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, I find myself stuck in a pattern of sin, unable to break free.

So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], 23 but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members, Romans 7:21-23.

Since I began working nights four years ago, attending church has been a difficult task due to my sleep schedule.  When I did miss a Sunday, I started watching a few pastors on TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  At some point, I thought I was strong enough to go without a congregation, attending church about once a month.  Yet, now I know I was misled by a rationalizing mind.  God designed human beings to be social creatures who thrive in a fellowship of believers.  Unfortunately, I was blinded, believing that I could exist apart from Christ’s body.  Boy… was I wrong!

Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]? 25 Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin, Romans 7:24-25.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know the necessary course of action, reconnect and join a church.  As a former youth pastor, its hard to overlook all the flaws that I see when I visit a new church.  Nonetheless, I have to make a decision before the summer ends.  As I cope with my wretched state, at least deliverance is available to those who trust in Jesus Christ.  May this blog serve as a warning so that you don’t make the same mistake of trying to serve God without a church to call home.  If you don’t, you might find yourself pondering, “what have I been doing?”

by Jay Mankus

You’ll Never Know Unless You Ask

December is the season for watching Christmas classics.  Every year networks have some sort of X number of days, re-airing animations, children and hallmark Christmas shows.  Recently, I sat down while my wife and son were watching Home Alone.  I can’t remember the last time I saw this film, but one scene got my attention.  Attending a Christmas Eve service, Macaulay Culkin is talking to his neighbor in the back of the church.  This discussion reveals a broken relationship between a father and son without any communication for years.  After this man gives Macaulay advice, Macaulay turns the tables, “you’ll never know unless you ask your son?”

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive, Colossians 3:13.

Throughout this country, previous disagreements create tension over holidays spent together.  When maturity is present, differences can be overcome.  Unfortunately, when arrogance, bitterness or pride enters the equation, relations turn cold.  As a former teacher and youth pastor, I have listened to a number of heart breaking stories of families falling apart.  Emotions tend to make individuals say things that they often regret.  A few careless words in the heat of the moment can divide the closest of friends.  After cooling off, if you want to make amends, you’ll never know until you ask.

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses, Mark 11:25.

One of the hardest parts of uniting two people who are convinced that the other is at fault lies in the principle of forgiveness.  According to Jesus, prayer should incorporate reflection, thinking about anyone that you are holding a grudge against.  The purpose of this practice is to reconcile, making right previous wrongs done by you or approaching others whom you haven’t forgiven for a past transgression.  The apostle Paul builds upon Jesus’ words, adding the concept of bearing with each other.  In the final scene of Scrooged, Bill Murray proclaims it’s never too late to find forgiveness.  Therefore, if you are alone and afraid this Christmas, wondering if reconciliation is possible, you’ll never know unless you ask.

by Jay Mankus

How Did We Get Here?

I recently watched a film produced by Andy Garcia back in 1995.  Starring Andy Garcia, Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman, The Lost City takes place in Havana, Cuba in 1958.  This movie reflects the hardship Garcia endured while growing up in Cuba under a dictatorship.  After an interesting beginning, the mood changes as young relatives attempt to rebel against this communist regime.  Without spoiling the plot, the consequences are chilling.  During a live television interview with President Fulgencio Batista, giving the appearance of peace and tranquility, members of the resistance are eliminated.

Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil, Ephesians 5:16.

At some point over the last half century, liberals and progressives have become infatuated with modern socialist leaders.  This admiration may be based upon the absolute power many of these leaders possess.  Whether it’s controlling the press, rigging elections or ruling without any restrictions, this environment is tempting.  Yet, anyone who watches the Lost City from beginning to end, will realize this is not the way to treat a nation of people.  The scary part of this is as I watch cable news, listen to radio updates and read newspaper articles, America is approaching communist and socialist traits.

My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! – Psalm 31:5

If the events of a news story does not fit a specific criteria, facts are altered, words taken out of context or the entire narrative is ignored.  Meanwhile, a camera can distort reality, making a crowd of protesters much larger than it is.  In addition, edited interviews can distort someone’s actual response to a question.  The end result is a plethora of fake news.  When there is no one to police the media, false narratives spread without challenge.  This is how America got here, to a daily media circus attempting to control what Americans think and believe.  Unless people take the time to check, research and test what is broadcasted, America will soon become the Lost Nation.

by Jay Mankus

Finding Life This Christmas

Christmas, Santa Claus and presents excite a children with exceeding anticipation for one day each year, December 25th.  Meanwhile, preparations for this same day can be overwhelming for grandparents, family and individuals trying to work as much as possible to pay for all these expenses.  On a day meant for Joy to the World, many struggle to find meaning and purpose for life.

Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead, Proverbs 21:16.

In a mad dash to please selfish and spoiled children, the reason for this season gets lost.  Crowded malls, congested roads and stress can suck the life out of positive people.  Subsequently, its easy to stray off the path of prudence, turning a joyful soul into Ebenezer Scrooge in a matter of weeks.  Unless you can snap out of this, you might end up at the end of the road, reserved for the company of the dead.

Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor, Proverbs 21:21.

According to Solomon, there is a way to find life this Christmas and throughout the year.  Similar to Jesus’ words in the sermon of the Mount, Matthew 6:33-34, this transformation begins with seeking God first and His righteousness.  One of the byproducts of this journey involves love as a formerly cold heart is revived by the Holy Spirit.  When individuals begin to seek the Spirit of Christmas 365 days a year, honor and prosperity follows.  Like Bill Murray in Scrooged, may you find life this Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

A Second Chance at Sight

In the 1988 film, Scrooged, Bill Murray is looking for a second chance in life.  Meanwhile, Alfre Woodard, playing Murray’s secretary Grace Cooley, prays for a Christmas miracle.  Inspired by visits from Christmas ghosts of the past, current and future, Murray risks his job by highjacking a live Christmas program to communicate the meaning of Christmas.  In the process, Cooley’s son who hadn’t spoken a word in years, breaks his silence at the conclusion of this live event.

As for me, I’ve received a second chance at sight.  Only a few people were aware of the pain I endured for 2 months this fall.  Unable to bear it any longer, I went to my eye doctor to see if I needed glasses.  Thinking old age was the main culprit, a set of tests revealed that my retinas were swollen, filled with fluids.  As the initial medicine made my condition worse to begin with, the nightmare of not being able to read things like the Bible was a real possibility.  However, 2 weeks later, God has given me a second chance at sight.

Therefore, as you open presents this Christmas season, don’t overlook the most precious gifts of all.  Whether its your senses, friendships or the memories of those who are no longer with you, Christmas is a time of second chances.  A season of forgiveness with the birth of a Savior, Matthew 1:21, who came to give you a new leash on life.  This Christmas, I got a second chance at sight.  As for you, may the power of the Holy Spirit reveal to you what you should be most thankful for.

by Jay Mankus

 

Gotta Get It Right

During my last year as a youth pastor, I was responsible for running Confirmation, a year long class for 8th graders who sought to take ownership of their faith.  Before the actual ceremony during church in the Spring, I took my group away on a retreat about 30 minutes west of Columbus, Indiana.  Coming out a year earlier, I showed the movie Groundhog Day to break the ice, easing the tension for those uncomfortable with talking about God.  Essentially, Bill Murray keeps repeating the same day over and over again, until he gets it right.

Unfortunately, time doesn’t stand still like this movie.  However, there are several life lessons worth noting.  First, too many individuals, me especially, become consumed with what they are doing, where they are going and what they need to accomplish every day.  As a result, blinders prevents you from appreciating, interacting and slowing down long enough to develop permanent meaningful lasting relationships.  Secondly, distracted people often don’t recognize, see or stop to help someone in need with a smile, word of encouragement or passing prayer.  Finally, life is best served by embracing daily distractions that God provides.  These interruptions offer opportunities to minister, nurture and uplift struggling souls.

While listening to the song Get it Right by Silverline, I sensed the urging of the Holy Spirit to write this blog.  Although each day is filled with trials and errors, life is too short to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.  If  you are touched by these words, join me in the quest to get it right, John 10:10.  Yet, when you fail, don’t give up, Galatians 6:9-10.  Rather, by leaning on Christ, Philippians 4:13, believe in your heart that over time, you will get it right.

Please comment on my blog how your journey is going.  This post is dedicated to Elizabeth, one of my students who gave her heart to Jesus, Romans 10:9-10, at the end of our confirmation retreat.

by Jay Mankus

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