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Songs that Save Souls

While singing a Christmas carol in church yesterday, a stanza from O Little Town of Bethlehem struck a cord with my soul. After examining the lyrics, I discovered two different versions. Unless you sing the traditional version, the sixth stanza is skipped completely. As the words “Where meek souls will receive Him,” flashed on the overhead screen, my heart was moved.

Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), and with the mouth he confesses (declares openly and speaks out freely his faith) and confirms [his] salvation, Romans 10:9-10.

Immediately, a rhema, an utterance from God overwhelmed me. Humble and meek hearts are crucial to receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior, Romans 10:9-11. If hearts are broken, callous, distracted or worn down, the miracle of Christmas is ignore, lost or missed completely. One of the ways God has changed and transformed my own heart is through Christian music which has touched my soul.

Of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! – Psalm 103:1

As I look back on the past three decades, there are some songs that became like a refuge, soothing my soul each time I listened to the lyrics. The first song is When God Ran by Benny Hester. After Hester got divorced, most of his music was removed from Christian bookstores, but this classic song moves me each time I hear it. In college, Feel the Nails by Ray Boltz served as a source of conviction to draw me back to God each time I strayed away.

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! – Psalm 103:2.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up was attending a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After my father was transferred to Cleveland, my parents started attending a local church where the priest looked just like pictures of Jesus. This Christmas Eve service began at 10:30, singing Christmas carols until 11pm. The final hour was a traditional mass that ended with Joy to the World. As you attend church this Christmas, may God refresh your memory of songs that save souls.

by Jay Mankus

Speed Trap

Back in 1986, I was introduced to the need for speed. The film Top Gun coincided with the year I received my driver’s license. Thus, when Maverick and Goose approach their fighter jet, played by Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards, I understood their conversation, “I feel the need, the need for speed.”

Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; James 1:19.

I was naïve back then, unaware of the speed traps lurking around each corner. Nine months after I got my license I received my first speeding ticket, flying down the St. George’s Bridge, oblivious to the cop at the bottom of the hill. This past Monday, I spent the day in traffic court for my son Daniel who received a ticket Christmas Eve, driving to my parents house after work. Hopefully, he too learned a valuable listen.

For the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us], James 1:20.

The Bible has an interesting perspective on speed traps. Instead of focusing on driving, the context above refers to speeding up and slowing down. The earthly brother of Jesus encourages first century Christians to be quick to listen. Apparently, the need for speed is centered around becoming a better listener. Meanwhile, you must fight the urge to become angry, slowing down as a form of discipline to tame your tongue. Therefore, the next time you get behind the wheel, dial in your ears toward heaven so that you avoid any urge for a lead foot or road rage.

by Jay Mankus

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

The Grouch That Spoiled Christmas

 

As a child, Christmas was my favorite time of the year.  As Christmas Eve drew closer, the more excited I became, wondering what gifts may be waiting for me under the tree.  Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, life got a lot more complicated.  Now that I am the one in charge of working to help pay for all the presents, this season has lost it’s luster.  After three consecutive weeks of working sixty hours at Amazon, I find myself turning into a new fictional character, the grouch that spoiled Christmas.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” – Matthew 10:38-40

Last night as I was leaving work, I had a flashback of the passage above.  Mary and Martha illustrate the clash of personalities that happen every day in life.  In this story, Martha is the older sister, the responsible one, running around to clean and cook for Jesus, trying to be a hospitable host.  Meanwhile, the baby sister cares more about talking than doing, entertaining Jesus by listening to his daily encounters with his disciples.  In an attempt to be a perfectionist, Martha becomes jealous, grouchy like me.

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her,” Luke 10:41-42.

Looking back, I never realized how much my parents did to make Christmas special.  I’m sure there were private moments behind closed doors of complaints or frustration, but my mother possessed the characteristics of Mary.  Before I ever heard of Mary and Martha, my mom demonstrated the personality trait God encourages others to emulate.  In a sense, last night I was reenacting this scene from the Bible in real life.  I played the role Martha.  My co-workers illustrated the joy of Mary, savoring the time together.  However, Jesus wasn’t there to scold me.  Rather, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, “watch out or you will become the grouch that spoiled Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

Be Grateful For What You Have; Not What You’ve Lost

In my first year as a high school teacher, I stayed up well past midnight preparing for the next day.  While attempting to create challenging lesson plans, I overlooked one important truth.  This quest for perfection often left me feeling empty as the good was overshadowed by negative reactions by parents and students.  Instead of being grateful for what I had accomplished, my heart, soul and mind spent most of the time focusing on what I had lost.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

A little more older and wise now, writing this blog has helped transform my perspective.  Rather than worry about the next issue, subject and topic I am going to address, the Lord has given me a sense of peace, knowing that somehow, someway God will provide new ideas.  Whether I’m reading an article waiting for my next eye doctor appointment, listening to talk radio or watching television, interesting concepts continue to flow.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20:35.

After not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve, I stumbled upon a documentary aired on the Golf Channel about former British Open Champion Darren Clarke.  Labeled as one of the best tour players not to win a major, Clarke faced something more important winning a golf tournament.  When Darren’s wife Heather was diagnosed with Breast Cancer for the second time, she succumb to this disease in 2006.  Always staying positive to the end, Heather left behind a message to visitor’s of her tombstone.  “Be Grateful For What You Have; Not What You’ve Lost.”  May these words inspire you to apply this mindset in 2017.

by Jay Mankus

 

Nights Void of Holiness

Franz Xaver Gruber composed the melody to Stille Nacht in 1818, giving birth to the classic Christmas carol known as Silent Night.  An Austrian school teacher, Gruber was likely inspired to write this song while serving in his church in Arnsdorf, Austria.  Beginning in 1816 Gruber took on the role as organist and choirmaster at St Nicholas Church.  Working with Joseph Mohr, a catholic priest who write the lyrics in German, the two combined their gifts to debut this song for a Christmas Eve mass 2 years later.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them, Luke 2:6-7.

If you believe the political pundits, public educators and progressive agenda in America, you may be convinced of a different America than the actual founders.  Instead of pointing to a Continental Congress which spent several hours in prayer seeking God’s insight, you will be pointed toward slave owners who should not have the right to be heard or followed.  This tense climate has given birth to nights voids of holiness.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord, Luke 2:10-11.

The 1988 film Diehard based upon the book written Roderick Thorp has recently become an usual Christmas classic.  Few people realize the irony behind one of the main characters.  The leader of a terrorist group and mastermind of a scheme to steal millions of dollars of bonds shares the last name with the composer of Silent Night, called Hans instead of Franz.  While Christmas is suppose to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World to Mary, a virgin, I can’t recall a recent night void of violence.  Instead of experiencing holy nights, many endure a fallen world on the verge of hell.  Despite this painful reality, don’t let others steal the joy of Christmas.  Rise above the Ebenezer Scrooges and recent terrorist attacks to share love to others this season.

by Jay Mankus

 

An Extreme Spiritual Make-over

 And she gave birth to her Son, her Firstborn; and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room or place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7

If I had to give an honest assessment, I too would have responded like the Inn Keepers in Bethlehem.  Similar to a vacation destination during Spring Break Week, the Roman Census quickly filled up all available accommodations.  Thus, the poor, unprepared and those stuck in traffic scrambled around like a male shopping for presents on Christmas Eve.  Only 1 person, a good Samaritan type, made room for Mary and Joseph.

In this day and age, distractions abound, pulling individuals in all sorts of directions.  Subsequently, scheduling time for God is usually the first to get cut or limited to a brief glance of a verse or two and a lame prayer.  Despite the lulls that may occur in a car, at home or during work, exhaustion keeps many from developing and or maintaining a healthy relationship with Jesus.  As I evaluate my 2014 calendar, I’m afraid I fit into Jesus’ harsh criticism of those follow the Lord with their lips, but not with their actions.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! – Matthew 7:21-23

If you too find yourself in this predicament, perhaps its time for an extreme spiritual make-over.  Philippians 2:12 suggests to begin working out your salvation with fear and trembling.  Solomon agrees, as fearing God in the beginning of knowledge, Proverbs 1:7.  When you allow the Holy Spirit to “Pump You Up,” missed opportunities of the past can lead to pivot points along your faith journey, Colossians 4:5.  In the end, make room for Jesus, whatever the cost, Matthew 16:24-27 so that one day you will hear from the King himself, “well done my good and faithful servant!”- Matthew 25:23

by Jay Mankus

 

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