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Silently Setting the Scene for Christmas

Franz Xaver Gruber composed Silent Night in 1818 using Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria as a back drop. When combined with Joseph Mohr’s lyrics, Silent Night was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011. In the past 200 years, this Christmas classic song has silently set the scene, preparing hearts and minds to worship Jesus, the Savior of the World.

In the beginning [before all time] was the Word ([a]Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [b]Himself. He was present originally with God. All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being John 1:1-3.

Yet, in the first century one of Jesus’ disciples introduces the concept of a Trinity. One God with three distinct personalities. If you use the Bible as a source for history, these qualities are displayed throughout 3 different eras. God the Father is the mastermind who laid out a back up plan in Genesis 3:15. Meanwhile, God the Son came to earth and seek and to save that which was lost, Luke 19:10.

In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men. And the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it [put it out or absorbed it or appropriated it, and is unreceptive to it], John 1:4-5.

Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, we now live in the age of the Holy Spirit. This invisible ghost serves as a counselor and guide throughout the days of our lives. According to one of the members of Jesus’ inner circle, God’s Spirit gives us everything we need for life, 2 Peter 1:3-4. Therefore, as another Christmas Day approaches, silently set your heart, soul and mind to be ready to worship Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

Discovering Your Divine Purpose in 2021

Purpose is like a pulse that provides a reason to get out of bed every day. The book definition of purpose is the reason for which something is done, created or for which something exists. In a letter to the Church of Philippi, the apostle Paul makes a fascinating statement. For a Christian, there is a divine purpose that God began in you as a child and desires for you to carry this on to completion.

By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible, Hebrews 11:3.

Paul said what? What signal and signs did I miss? Did I blow God off? Was I so consumed by my own life that I was oblivious to the people God sent into my life? Looking back at my teenage years, I certainly took several detours and wrong turns. I resisted God on numerous occasions until my nervous breakdown in high school. I may not have wandered around for 40 years like Israel, but I was still stubborn for 2 decades.

Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you], Romans 12:2.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s never too late to discover your divine purpose. Using an analogy from Romans 9:19-29, God is a heavenly potter and we are the clay. Since a piece of art takes time to create, discovering this divine purpose begins with a spiritual transformation. Along the way, the Bible is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The move you read and study God’s Word, this purpose starts to come into focus, beginning with the borders. From here, the Holy Spirit serves as a counselor to lead the way.

by Jay Mankus

It’s Hard to Get Plugged In When You Can’t Find the Outlet

In this age of technology and social media, there are several cords and plugs scattered around my house and inside my car. When a cell phone begins to loose it’s power, it’s helpful to have one of these chargers already plugged in. However, what happens when a cord stops working or the battery stops holding a charge. Meanwhile, if you visit a new country in Europe and don’t buy an adapter prior to your trip, it’s hard to get plugged in when you can’t find the right outlet.

For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [[d]full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue), 2 Peter 1:3.

One of Jesus’ disciples uses a similar analogy while writing a letter to first century Christians scattered throughout the Middle East. While Peter doesn’t go into specific details, the passage above suggests that Christians began to feel powerless to change their lives. Thus, the beginning of Peter’s letter serves as a pep talk to uplift those Christians who feel defeated. Paul reminds his audience that God has given us everything we need in this life.

By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4.

What Peter is referencing is the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever anyone enters into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-10, this spiritual counselor becomes available. However, unless you’re plugged in spiritually via prayer and studying the Bible, you won’t be able to tap into God’s power. Therefore, when your faith starts to erode due to moral decay, remember the promises in the Bible which is the outlet you need to get plugged in on a daily basis.

by Jay Mankus

Anticipating and Waiting for the Blessing

Growing pains are often described as an ache or throbbing sensation in the legs. As teenagers start to experience major growth spurts, this pain is often felt in the front of thighs, calves or behind the knees. The apostle Paul refers to the concept of spiritual growing pains in one of his letters. After Paul departed the Church at Galatia, continuing on one of his missionary journeys, several members of this church were led astray by a Jewish sect known as the Judaizers. This is the context of Paul’s advice below.

For we, [not relying on the Law but] through the [Holy] Spirit’s [help], by faith anticipate and wait for the blessing and good for which our righteousness and right standing with God [our conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action, causes us] to hope, Galatians 5:5.

While the Old Testament serves as a modern day guide for living a moral life, this is not how you get in right standing with God. Rather, Jesus left behind the Holy Spirit as a counselor to help overcome spiritual growing pains. Instead of holding on to religious traditions, Paul wants Christians to rely on faith as you anticipate and wait for your life to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps referencing Deuteronomy 28:1-3, faith is what keeps you going until blessings arrive in the form of spiritual fruits, Galatians 5:22-23.

Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly]; 18 Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will], 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18.

Meanwhile, a letter to the Church at Thessalonica suggests that Paul wants believers to concentrate on the will of God. Developing a prayerful mindset is a crucial step toward receiving the clarity needed to understand what God’s will is for your life. If you put these two passages together, the anticipation and waiting may refer to the realization of God’s will. Since this usually takes years to be unveiled, blessings from God start with a small trickle and will rain down once individuals find their place in this world by living out their faith.

by Jay Mankus

The Desires of the Spirit

From my own personal experiences, many of the so called “spirit filled” churches that I have attended over emphasize certain spiritual gifts. Instead of teaching the desires of God’s Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gift of prophecy and speaking in tongues overshadow what God desires. Thus, I find myself as an adult who lacks the knowledge and spiritual insight to keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

For those who are according to the flesh and are controlled by its unholy desires set their minds on and pursue those things which gratify the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit and are controlled by the desires of the Spirit set their minds on and seek those things which gratify the [Holy] Spirit, Romans 8:5.

When the concept of the Holy Spirit was first introduced to his disciples, Jesus refers to this Holy Ghost as a Counselor. Synonyms for counselor include advisor, confidant, guide and mentor. If this was Jesus’ ultimate goal, then I have been misinformed about the role of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, I need to simplify my understanding to an invisible counselor who yearns for me to become aware of the desires of God’s Spirit.

But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message [on His own authority]; but He will tell whatever He hears [from the Father; He will give the message that has been given to Him], and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come [that will happen in the future], John 16:13.

The apostle Paul has provided a list below to visualize what God prefers. These fruits of the Spirit are desired actions, behaviors and character traits that Christians should seek to obtain. Mere Christianity written by C.S. Lewis contains two types of virtues, with the second only accessible through the power of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal virtues such as prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice are qualities that anyone can possess. Yet, the theological virtues of charity, hope and faith are limited to Christians.

But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, 23 Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge]. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.

According to Paul, sinful appetites, desires and passions keep many individuals from every fulfilling the desires of the Spirit. Until your human flesh is crucified, dying to self, the ability to produce spiritual fruit is hindered. This may explain why many regions of the world are filled with darkness, void of any spiritual life. If you want to add flavor to the lives of those who you come in contact with daily, follow Paul’s advice by pursuing the desires of the Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

A Spiritual Quake

Beginning in John 14, Jesus reveals specific details about the Spirit of God. Seven words are selected to describe this spiritual entity in verse 16.  Helper, comforter, advocate, intercessor, counselor, strengthener and standby reveal what this promised spiritual guide will be able to do for those who believe. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit takes on the presence of a violent wind and quake.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place, and suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rushing violent wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were being distributed [among them], and they rested on each one of them [as each person received the Holy Spirit]. And they were all filled [that is, diffused throughout their being] with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other [btongues (different languages), as the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak out [clearly and appropriately], Acts 2:1-4.

A first century doctor chooses some interesting words to describe this foreign object. Like an unidentified flying object, the Holy Spirit appears as tongues of fire falling from heaven. Oddly enough, there was no fear or running away of these flames. Rather, apostles, disciples and godly individuals were immediately transformed. In the process, Hooked on Phonics was not necessary as God’s Spirit enabled these believers to communicate to strangers in different languages.

And when they had prayed, the place where they were meeting together was shaken [a sign of God’s presence]; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness and courage, Acts 4:31.

After everything calmed down, Peter stood up to explain what had just happened. Acts 2:38 explains how eyewitnesses of this event can receive this same Spirit.  According to Peter, repenting and baptism must occur before access to the Holy Spirit is granted. Two chapters later Peter and John refuse to stop talking about Jesus. This spiritual stand triggers a spiritual earthquake.  According to Luke, this shaking was merely a sign of God’s presence.  If your life is currently void of any spiritual fruit, perhaps its time to follow in the footsteps of the apostles so that the Holy Spirit will quake to awaken your soul.

by Jay Mankus

A Passport to Heaven

Credentials are defined as evidence of authority, status, and rights. Anyone who possesses the proper credentials in life are given access to or are entitled to special privileges that exist depending upon your position, rank or title. At some point in his life, Jesus was recognized as a magician, rabbi and teacher despite not having an earthly degree in any of these areas. This reputation enabled Jesus to converse, discuss and meet with a wide range of individuals. During the first century, a rich young ruler approached Jesus searching for a passport to heaven.

A certain ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher [You who are essentially and morally good], what shall I do to inherit eternal life [that is, eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom]?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is [essentially and morally] good except God alone, Luke 18:18-19.

A first century doctor recounts the dialogue between these two men in the passage above and below.  Based upon what was written, it appears that this ruler believed that heaven was something that could be earned.  Jesus nips this mindset in the butt, informing any who could hear that only God is good.  Jesus transitions into a different direction, taking a spiritual inventory of this young man’s past.  This discussion led to knowing and practicing the ten commandments.  Like a counselor listening to their patient, Jesus noticed one thing lacking within this ruler.  Financial success led this man to rely on money rather than fully trust the Lord to provide.  At the end of their conversation, this rich young ruler walks away disappointed, unable to meet the credentials necessary for a passport to heaven.

When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing; sell everything that you have and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have [abundant] treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me [becoming My disciple, believing and trusting in Me and walking the same path of life that I walk],” Luke 18:22-23.

In a previous conversation with his own disciples, Jesus provides further insight into the credentials necessary to receive a passport to heaven.  Jesus gives those who seek to become a modern day disciple three ultimatums.  First, deny yourself by setting aside selfish ambitions.  Second, take up your cross through a willingness to endure whatever may come in the form of persecution.  Third, follow Jesus, by believing, conforming and emulating the life of Christ.  If you have to summarize these requirements to receive a passport to heaven, you must be willing to lose your life, surrendering it completely, to find eternal life.

by Jay Mankus

The Seventh Hand

The oldest preserved measuring rod is a copper-alloy bar discovered by the German Assyriologist Eckhard Unger during an excavation of the ancient city of Nippur.  This device is believed to have been used 2650 years before Christ.  According to the Bible, a cubit is the earliest form of measurement.  A cubit is the forearm length from the tip of the middle finger to the bottom of the elbow.  Thus, the hand was an essential body part necessary to complete the most basic measurement.

And these are the measurements of the altar [of burnt offering] in cubits (the cubit being a [long] cubit [the length of a forearm] and a hand width): the base shall be a cubit [long] and a cubit wide, with its border on its edge all around it of a span [in width]. And this shall be the height of the base of the altar, Ezekiel 43:13.

Within the Old Testament, some of the authors introduce the concept of guardian angels.  The Psalmist describes this spiritual being as one who encamps around those who fear God, Psalm 34:7.  In addition, God commands angels to guard you in all of your ways, Psalm 91:11.  This invisible being is like the hand of God watching over your life.  Yet, the Psalmist does include a requirement, fearing God.  The context of this fear is similar to a holy reverence, respecting the Creator of life on earth.  The degree to which you fear the Lord serves as a measuring stick of your faith.

But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth [full and complete truth]. For He will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak whatever He hears [from the Father—the message regarding the Son], and He will disclose to you what is to come [in the future], John 16:13.

Prior to his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus refers to a Holy Ghost that will be sent after his departure.  New Testament authors refer to this being as a counselor, sent to guide and direct followers of Christ to a complete understanding of truth.  Like another hand to hold, nudge or tap, God uses angels and the Holy Spirit to seek and to save those who are spiritually lost.  Depending upon your current state of mind, may the presence of guardian angels and God’s Spirit encourage you to hold onto the seventh hand, messengers of God, until the storms in life subside.

by Jay Mankus

 

Holding Everything Together Until the Glue Dries

Early on in my marriage, Leanne and I went to antique shops, searching for a piece of furniture that could be refinished.  Wooden chairs were a common purchase, trying to breathe new life into classic designs.  Scraping and sanding away old paint often revealed imperfections.  In some cases, spindles needed to be reattached with glue.  Without a wide arrange of clamps available to apply to a curved angle, brute force was necessary to hold everything together until the glue dried.  This process often involved placing your arms and legs into a death grip to avoid spindles from popping out of place.  If pressure wasn’t maintained until the bonding process was complete, we had to start all over again from the beginning.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together, Colossians 1:17.

As my body approaches the half century mark in age, I’m beginning to feel like an antique.  Instead of having a spindle or two out of place, I feel broken, trying to pick up all the pieces.  Yet, I have learned that I can’t do this on my own.  According to Jesus, the spiritual healthy should be able to self medicate their lives.  However, if you attempt to do this without spiritual brothers and sisters within a church fellowship, holding everything together can be overwhelming.  Perhaps, this may explain the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-12, in “your own weaknesses, lean on Jesus to make you strong.”

But when Jesus heard this, He said, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but [only] those who are sick, Matthew 9:12.

While I am not a counselor by trade, I often find myself scouring the Bible to find answers to my struggles in life.  This daily process involves reflection, meditation and searching for nuggets of truth to heal and mend my soul.  Unfortunately, I spend many weeks out of the year depressed, unable to hold things together.  Again and again, I fight through the pain in my heart to stay optimistic.  The one trait I have on my side is a faith empowered by the promises in the Bible.  Against all odds, the Holy Spirit propels me to press on despite how I feel day to day.  This invisible force is the glue that holds everything together until the bonding process of sanctification is complete.

by Jay Mankus

When Conviction Overrides the Pressure to Conform

When a conscience is functioning properly, this human sense analyzes and evaluates whether or not your current actions are appropriate.  If you cross the line between right and wrong, a declaration of guilt is sent throughout your body.  This signal is felt by hearts and souls that are open to change.  Unfortunately, when opinions are elevated to truth status,  conviction is weakened, opening the door for peer pressure to take precedent.

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: John 16:8.

At the end of his three year ministry on earth, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for the future.  Unaware of his impending death, Jesus refers to a counselor that will be sent after he is gone.  This spiritual presence will enhance the conviction process, unveiling past and current transgressions.  Referring to the Holy Spirit, this invisible force will expose darkness by illuminating righteousness.  This spiritual aide is designed to use conviction as a tool to override pressure to conform to the ways of this world.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” – Acts 2:37

After Jesus ascended into heaven, residents of Jerusalem began to experience the initial presence of the Holy Spirit.  Luke describes this sensation as a heavy heart, struck with an overwhelming degree of anxiety and remorse.  Upon hearing this response, Peter guides these convicted hearts to take the next step, repent and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  While not everyone goes through with Peter’s advice, this decision lays a foundation for conviction to override peer pressure to confirm.  May these words inspire you to act upon the conviction of the Holy Spirit so that you draw closer to God.

by Jay Mankus

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