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Unwrapping the Theology of Christmas

The word theology simply means the science of God. Understanding theology isn’t always easy, but to grasp the true meaning of Christmas you have to make one presupposition. Since Old Testament prophets write about the coming of a Messiah, human beings need to acknowledge their need for a Savior. The presupposition individuals must make is that you can’t save yourself. Without this realization, Christmas is just another holiday as a Savior is not sought out.

As it is written, None is righteous, just and truthful and upright and conscientious, no, not one. 11 No one understands [no one intelligently discerns or comprehends]; no one seeks out God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong and have become unprofitable and worthless; no one does right, not even one! – Romans 3:10-12

In the passage above, the apostle Paul drives this point home to members of the church at Rome. Referencing an Old Testament prophet, Paul explains that no one is perfect. No matter how highly you may regard yourself, every day, week, month and year people stray from God’s law. Regardless of what disciplines, focus and safeguards are put into place, sooner or later you will break, cut corners or deviate from commands in the Bible.

For the wages which sin pays is death, but the [bountiful] free gift of God is eternal life through (in union with) Jesus Christ our Lord, Romans 6:23.

The best way I know to unwrap the theology of Christmas is through an illustration I learned from Evangelism Explosion. The passage above is part of a diagram using the Grand Canyon. Human beings are on one side of the canyon and God is on the other side. However, Jesus is offered as a free gift, dying on a cross to save mankind from sin. Those who accept the gift of eternal life through a personal relationship with God have access to cross this canyon by faith. This invisible bridge is in the shape of a cross. The moment Jesus was born, salvation and eternal life was made possible, 1 John 5:13. May these words sink in as Christmas Day approaches.

by Jay Mankus

Fence Jumping

Before the days of gated communities and security cameras, home owners erected fences to keep people off their property.  Animals lovers added big guard dogs to scare off potential trespassers.  Despite these obvious warnings, if these obstacles meant saving time through a short cut, I was willing to take the risk as a teenager.  Depending upon who was with me at the time, we would approach cautiously and look in every direction to see if it was safe.  When the timing was right, my friends and I jumped the fence, ran and cleared the other side.

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out, John 10:2-3.

The Bible refers to a different kind of fence, a shepherd’s pen.  Early in the morning, first century shepherds led their sheep to a pasture to graze during the day, leading them with his staff.  Before night fall, the shepherd would count each one before placing them back into a pen for the night.  However, his work was not done, often sleeping outside overnight to protect his sheep from potential fence jumpers, wild animals hoping to get a free meal.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it, Matthew 7:14.

Today, fence jumpers still exist.  Some do so to escape a troubled past, hoping to find a new life on the other side.  Some find the grass greener on the opposing side of their fence.  A combination of discontentment and jealousy entice these people to consider exchanging one fence for another.  Meanwhile, others try to find the easiest way possible through life, even if it means cutting some corners here and there.  According to Jesus, only a few enter through the eternal gate that leads to life.  While countless attempt to jump this fence, no one has or will ever be successful.  Therefore, if you want to enter this place you must listen for and to the Shepherd to lead you to the gate of heaven.

by Jay Mankus

Measuring Your Treasures

There are various youthanisms which exist about measuring riches.  Some claim he who dies with the most toys wins.  Meanwhile, the eternalist states you can’t take it with you.  Others believe beauty is the eye of the beholder.  These distinctions force individuals to begin to measure their own personal treasures in life.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal, Matthew 6:20.

During his sermon on the Mount of Olives, Jesus makes a connection between treasure and the human heart.  Priorities dictate how you ultimately invest your time while on earth.  Although some treasures appear to be worth the journey, often your soul experiences fools gold, disappointed in the end.  To avoid future heartache, Jesus encourages his followers to seek treasures that are eternal.

But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! – Matthew 6:24

Within any treasure quest, greed often comes into play.  This desire is portrayed as darkness that can influence your heart.  Anyone who allows darkness to linger is in danger of inviting a spiritual poison into your heart.  Sure, everyone wants to have cake and eat it too.  Yet, at some point you have to determine what you are chasing after.  Since you can’t serve two masters, measure your treasures carefully.

by Jay Mankus

A New Type of Addiction

Cravings, dependence and enslavement are all terms associated with addiction.  This invisible struggle tends to go unnoticed.  Initial signs are subtle as souls wrestle with self-control prior to patterns being revealed.  In the context of alcohol and drugs, actions, behavior and obsessions become obvious over time.  Unfortunately, until individuals come to grips with their losing battle, conditions will continue on a downward spiral.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God, Colossians 3:1.

Last weekend I had lunch just north of Amish country.  After picking up my kids from their week long camp, I wanted to spend some time together learning of their experience.  Hoping to get a flavor of Lancaster County, my son chose a diner with several cars in the parking lot.  To my surprise many of the customers were busy playing Pokemon Go on their phones.  This popular app’s success is a sign of a new type of addiction.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things, Colossians 3:2.

Recreation serves as a vehicle to revitalize souls.  However, when individuals become captivated with what’s on their phones, hearts and minds become weakened.  Hobbies are a good and fun way to pass time.  Yet, as people become attached and hooked to their phones or tablets, unhealthy patterns form.  The concept of being still before the Lord is replaced by a new type of addiction to technology.  May those distracted by these modern devises reflect upon the apostle Paul’s words and be moved to fix their hearts and minds on eternal things.

by Jay Mankus

 

Something Made to Last

If you are a purest, its hard to find anything today that is built to last the test of time.  Somewhere over the last hundred years, a younger generation has chosen cheaper prices over reliability.  Subsequently, most of the items for sale are temporary, often breaking much sooner than promised or before their warranty is up.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture, John 10:9.

In 1970, Coca-Cola began an advertising campaign claiming that their soft drink Coke was the real thing.  Essentially, executives were trying to convince consumers that Pepsi Cola and RC Cola were artificial, unlike their product.  Today, other manufacturers are making similar boasts.  Unfortunately, unless you are willing to pay a premium price, rarely will you find something made to last.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full, John 10:10.

Remedy Drive sings about this topic in their 2012 song Something Made to Last.  One of the issues they address are things in life that promise satisfaction, but end in disappointment.  Since every life has the same finale, death, its vital to find something that is eternal.  This is where Jesus enters the picture, promising an abundant life to those who chose to believe.  Therefore, don’t allow yourself to settle for a life void of meaning.  Rather, step out in faith by taking the hand of Jesus, who has left you the Holy Spirit which gives you something made to last.

by Jay Mankus

 

The Allure of Money

If you are a fan of reality television, then you likely understand the allure of money.  Shows like Insane Pools, Tanked and Treehouse Masters help Americans visualize what a couple of hundred of thousand dollars can buy you.  Thus, if you’re not careful, the eternal can be replaced by temporary treasures, distracting individuals for a life time.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs, 1 Timothy 6:10.

Money in itself is okay, used to provide the needs of life.  The love of money is what is harmful.  This love refers to a lust, craving and coveting what you neighbors have instead of being thankful for what God has given you.  This obsession often leads to deception as individuals are lured away from the faith.  For many, they don’t recovery, dragged behind the devil’s door.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5.

The author of Hebrews provides the solution to the allure of money.  The key is maintaining a level head by staying content with the hand God has dealt you.  This is accomplished through a spirit of thankfulness.  When you possess this quality, individuals recognize God is the source behind your wealth.  Therefore, don’t be tempted by what you don’t have.  Rather, embrace the little things in life so that the allure of life won’t hold you down.

by Jay Mankus

 

How Relevant are You?

I spent the majority of my years as a student in obscurity, afraid my stuttering would embarrass me in some way.  It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began to become relevant, serving on student council, volunteering to help build the class float for homecoming and reaching out to individuals throughout the school.  Whether popularity makes you relevant or not, I came into my own as a human being, with the highlight turning my parents basement into a nightclub for one Christmas evening during my freshmen year of college.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? – James 2:14

In the years that followed, inconsistency is the best term that describes my life.  I had my moments in the spot light, playing sand volleyball at Geauga Lake in its hey day, serving as a journalist for Travel Golf Media and store manager of Michael Jordan Golf at O’Hare International Airport.  However, I consider these personal accomplishments, not something that makes you relevant.  The best way to explain relevance is by quoting Larry the Cable Guy, ” get ur done!”  Yet, what if you invest your time and energy into things that are trivial?

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead, James 2:17.

From an eternal perspective, my most relevant year was 1993.  I spent the first portion at a youth ministry trade school called Tentmaker’s, fine tuning my spiritual gifts.  The next three months involved applying this new found knowledge as a counselor and teacher at a boarding school for career underachieving junior high students.  The final six months of 93 were my finest, serving as a youth pastor in Columbus, Indiana.  These days were the epitome of relevance, meeting my wife to be in the final month of this year.  Yet, for now, I struggle to find relevance, distracted by the stress of life.  Although its nice to reminisce from time to time, its never to late to become relevant again.  May we all strive to find our place in this world so that our deeds, faith and work will not be done in vain.

by Jay Mankus

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