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Enemies of the Cross

A person who is actively opposed to or hostile to someone or something is an enemy. This adversary often becomes a nemesis who will do whatever it takes to resist a cause or movement. In the first century, Jewish religious leaders had the most to lose as Jesus’ popularity began to skyrocket. When members of local synagogues began to refer to Jesus as the King of the Jews, enemies sent this innocent man to die on a cross.

For there are many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, who walk (live) as enemies of the cross of Christ (the Anointed One), Philippians 3:18.

One of these enemies of the cross wrote a majority of the books in the New Testament. Perhaps, Paul’s past aggression toward Christianity tugged on his heart. If not for his encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus, Paul may have continued to be an enemy of the cross. When Paul saw his former friends continue to persecute and harass Christians, tears began to stream down his face.

They are doomed and their fate is eternal misery (perdition); their god is their stomach (their appetites, their sensuality) and they glory in their shame, siding with earthly things and being of their party, Philippians 3:19.

Well before Paul wrote his epistles, Jesus warned his disciples of the hatred that awaits his followers, John 15:18. In other words, don’t take the enemies of the cross personally. Behind the scenes, there are spiritual forces at work that will overwhelm you if you’re not prepared, Ephesians 6:12. The best way to cope with modern enemies of the cross is to put on the armor of God, Ephesians 6:13-20. As you do, you’ll be able to fend off criticism with the love of Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

The Burning within Us

On the original Easter Sunday, a group of individuals traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a 7 mile walk. Without any electronic devices to pass the time, this group reflected upon all that had happened during Passion Week. Going along on this walk was Jesus, disguised and playing coy. Jesus asks a series of questions, setting the tone for this afternoon stroll. Upon arriving, Jesus is asked to stick around for dinner. This is when an internal burning sensation began deep inside the hearts of these men..

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered Him, Do you alone dwell as a stranger in Jerusalem and not know the things that have occurred there in these days? 19 And He said to them, What [kind of] things? And they said to Him, About Jesus of Nazareth, Who was a Prophet mighty in work and word before God and all the people— 20 And how our chief priests and rulers gave Him up to be sentenced to death, and crucified Him, Luke 24:18-20.

Based upon the knowledge of a first century doctor, Cleopas appears to have been one of 72 additional disciples chosen by Jesus in Luke 10:1. Since no one else is mentioned directly by name, Cleopas seems to be the leader of this caravan. Jesus continues to asks Cleopas questions as if a stranger, unaware of the previous events that took place from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. Cleopas responds to Jesus with a befuddled expression as if to suggest, “where have you been man?”

But they urged and insisted, saying to Him, Remain with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent. So He went in to stay with them. 30 And it occurred that as He reclined at table with them, He took [a loaf of] bread and praised [God] and gave thanks and asked a blessing, and then broke it and was giving it to them 31 When their eyes were [instantly] opened and they [clearly] recognized Him, and He vanished (departed invisibly). 32 And they said to one another, Were not our hearts greatly moved and burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and as He opened and explained to us [the sense of] the Scriptures? – Luke 24:29-32.

The mood of this group changed during a meal. Reclining at a table, Jesus let his guard down as the conversation ignited a spiritual fire within those who attended. It’s unclear what triggered their minds to finally recognize Jesus, but this communion like atmosphere opened their eyes. As soon as Jesus vanished like a ghost, this encounter struck a nerve in their consciences. Perhaps, there was a sense of regret, “I can’t believe Jesus was with us the whole time.” Inspired by this special moment, Cleopas’s group turned around, walking 7 miles back to Jerusalem as the fire inside their hearts continue to smolder.

by Jay Mankus

When God Leaves the Backdoor Open

The origin of backdoor dates back to the early 1520’s. Over the past 500 years, this term has evolved from small homes that were built back to back to cultural expressions. The Urban Dictionary refers to taking an alternative route, going behind someone’s back, and or a form of betrayal. The Bible provides accounts of when God leaves the backdoor open.

Now there was a certain man among the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler (a leader, an authority) among the Jews, Who came to Jesus at night and said to Him, Rabbi, we know and are certain that You have come from God [as] a Teacher; for no one can do these signs (these wonderworks, these miracles—and produce the proofs) that You do unless God is with him, John 3:1-2.

As churches throughout the world celebrate Passion Week, Nicodemus is prime example that fits into this category. In the passage above, this Pharisee requests a private meeting with Jesus under the cover of darkness. Afraid of what his peers might think of his curiosity about Jesus, Nicodemus uses the backdoor. As the recipient of John 3:16-17, these words brewed with Nicodemus’ heart.

As for this multitude (rabble) that does not know the Law, they are contemptible and doomed and accursed! 50 Then Nicodemus, who came to Jesus before at night and was one of them, asked, 51 Does our Law convict a man without giving him a hearing and finding out what he has done? 52 They answered him, Are you too from Galilee? Search [the Scriptures yourself], and you will see that no prophet comes (will rise to prominence) from Galilee, John 7:49-52.

The second time Nicodemus is mentioned in the Bible, he defends Jesus in the passage above. Some of his fellow religious leaders suggest that Nicodemus is a secret follower of Jesus. Becoming a Christian usually doesn’t happen over night as many choose to enter faith through the backdoor initially. When the words of the Bible begin to click and fear of what others think about you fades, God leaves the backdoor open, Revelation 3:20, so you can enter when you’re ready.

by Jay Mankus

Afraid to Tell Her of Your Love

An inciting incident in a screen play is a story that upsets the status quo and begins the story’s movement forward. According to author and story guru John Truby, narrative drive is the forward propulsion of a story. When communicated in the right manner, this serves as a page turner, captivating audiences as viewers want to find out what will happen next. The inciting incident in my own life was the death of a good friend from high school. Since I was afraid to tell her of God’s love while she was battling cancer, her passing created a spirit of conviction within my heart for this to never happen again.

You have heard of my earlier career and former manner of life in the Jewish religion (Judaism), how I persecuted and abused the church of God furiously and extensively, and [with fanatical zeal did my best] to make havoc of it and destroy it. 14 And [you have heard how] I outstripped many of the men of my own generation among the people of my race in [my advancement in study and observance of the laws of] Judaism, so extremely enthusiastic and zealous I was for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when He, Who had chosen and set me apart [even] before I was born and had called me by His grace (His undeserved favor and blessing), saw fit and was pleased, Galatians 1:13-15.

In a letter to the Church at Galatia, the apostle Paul writes about his previous life before entering a relationship with Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-11. The first chapter of Galatians serves as a blue print for telling your own personal story about how you came to faith. This outline begins by sharing how you acted, behaved and lived your life prior to making your spiritual decision. The second part is simply when and how you were introduced to God. The final step of a testimony is explaining how your life has been changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. For some of you, this process may still be in it’s infancy. Yet, as time passes, light will expose traces of darkness that still exists within you.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. Do not blush or be ashamed then, to testify to and for our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for His sake, but [with me] take your share of the suffering [to which the preaching] of the Gospel [may expose you, and do it] in the power of God, 2 Peter 1:7-8.

To ensure that I was not afraid anymore, I sought out accountability groups, Bible Studies and Christian groups on campus to deepen my faith. I set up a duel internship at a Bible Fellowship Church in Ohio to spark my passion for youth ministry. I spent a decade serving as a Bible Teacher at a Christian High School and the last nine years sharing my journey with God by writing daily devotionals at Express Yourself 4 Him. I’d be lying if I haven’t fallen short in the area of fear. Yet, faith is a process of rising and falling, talking steps back and marching forward. My end goal is to no longer be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus so that when an opportunity to share my faith arises. When fear disappears, you will be prepared to give an answer for the faith that you now have, 1 Peter 3:15-16, this Easter Season.

by Jay Mankus

Shut It Down

The expression “shut it down” is an idiom, slang for to cease operations. Whether you’re referring to a dying business, a floundering device or an overheating vehicle, this command is uttered to prevent further damage. Instead of raising the white flag, shut it down implies that someone or something is giving up. While it’s never easy to admit defeat, these words suggest to move on and wait for another day.

Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger, animosity) and quarreling (brawling, clamor, contention) and slander (evil-speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you, with all malice (spite, ill will, or baseness of any kind), Ephesians 4:31.

In the passage above, the apostle Paul urges Christians to break an unhealthy habit. Apparently, first century believers struggled to tame their own tongue. Instead of practicing self control, mouths began to spew abusive language. This pattern appears to have spread throughout the Church of Ephesus. Concerned about a full outbreak of trash talking, Paul had heard and seen enough, demanding, “shut it down!”

And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you, Ephesians 4:32.

Like a spiritual form of rehab, Paul adds instructions on how to change above. When urges to criticize, condemn or complain rise to the surface, a tender heart makes all the difference. Instead of treating others according to the world’s standards, remember what Jesus did for you on the cross. As a spirit of compassion begins to flow through your heart, shutting down malicious talk is possible. Rather than the tearing down others to make yourself feel better, choose encouragement to uplift those around you.

by Jay Mankus

Let the Thief Steal No More

The Greek word for thief is κλέφτης. When translated into English, this term refers to a bandit, lifter or robber. Character traits include going into a stealth mode, taking something of value when no one is looking. In the biblical case of Judas Iscariot, he was the treasurer of Jesus’ earthly ministry. As donations began to flow in following a plethora of miracles, some scholars have suggested that Judas began to skim off the top prior to betraying Jesus.

When angry, do not sin; do not ever let your wrath (your exasperation, your fury or indignation) last until the sun goes down. 27 Leave no [such] room or foothold for the devil [give no opportunity to him]. 28 Let the thief steal no more, but rather let him be industrious, making an honest living with his own hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need, Ephesians 4:26-28.

In a letter to the Church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul unveils a spiritual mastermind. Like the Joker in Batman, this archenemy will do anything in his power to win at all costs. If you go back and examine Matthew 4:1-11, this is exactly what the Devil does to trick Jesus into giving into temptation. Despite this failed attempt, every day the thief steals from followers of Christ. Using a series of subtle forms of compromise, the Devil is bent on seeing people of faith fall away from God.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)., John 10:10.

The disciple whom Jesus loved uses a similar expression to warn first century followers of this spiritual thief. As the ruler of the air, Ephesians 2:2, the Devil has 3 main objectives daily. First, to steal the word of God sown in a new believer’s heart, Matthew 13:19. Second, to kill the dreams of those seeking to reach self-actualization, Jeremiah 29:11. Finally, to destroy any spiritual relationship, Luke 10:38-42, that will help uplift you when you fail. Regardless of your current circumstances, let the thief steal no more by covering your friends with a hedge of protection via prayer.

by Jay Mankus

Fighting for Your Life

An average, 56 million individuals will lose their life in 2021. Worldwide, 150,000 people will pass away today. While 100,000 will die from age related causes, the remaining 50,000 have no warning signs of their last day on earth. Although no one wants to be diagnosed with a life threatened illness, at least these unfortunate souls have the opportunity to fight for their lives.

In those days Hezekiah became deadly ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover, 2 Kings 20:1.

During a visit from an Old Testament prophet, King Hezekiah was informed that the end was near. Isaiah is the first to use the expression “set your house in order.” Like a business executive about to retire, Hezekiah was told to begin preparing for his own death by saying goodbye to family and friends. Instead of surrendering to this illness, Hezekiah poured out his heart to God in prayer.

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, I beseech You, O Lord, [earnestly] remember now how I have walked before You in faithfulness and truth and with a whole heart [entirely devoted to You] and have done what is good in Your sight. And Hezekiah wept bitterly, 2 Kings 20:2-3.

As a former high school Bible teacher, two of my former students succumb to cancer before having a chance to enter the prime of their lives. After wrestling with God in prayer, Hezekiah was one of the lucky ones as the Lord extended his life by another 15 years. However, Hezekiah’s healing was not assured until witnessing his shadow go ten steps backwards. As you read this today, may you follow in the footsteps of the apostle Paul by fighting the good fight, 1 Timothy 6:12, until the Lord takes you home.

by Jay Mankus

Carry the Load

Carrying one another’s burdens was central to the first century church, Acts 2:44-47. Unlike the large cathedrals and megachurches of today, there wasn’t the financial resources available at this time. Thus, homes, existing synagogues, and or open areas near bodies of water were used as places of worship. Whenever a need arose within a body of believers, sacrifices were made so that no one went hungry or without a place to call home.

Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also. Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it], Galatians 6:1-2.

While home churches and small groups still meet today, poverty is rampant across the country and throughout the world. At some point in the past 2000 years, Christian congregations have forgotten the apostles teaching. Instead of carrying the load of burdens in neighborhoods and communities, many families have gone their own separate ways. Similar to the ways of the Old Testament, American Christians appear to be doing what’s right in their own eyes, Judges 21:25, without carrying the burdens of others.

For if any person thinks himself to be somebody [too important to condescend to shoulder another’s load] when he is nobody [of superiority except in his own estimation], he deceives and deludes and cheats himself. But let every person carefully scrutinize and examine and test his own conduct and his own work. He can then have the personal satisfaction and joy of doing something commendable [in itself alone] without [resorting to] boastful comparison with his neighbor. For every person will have to bear (be equal to understanding and calmly receive) his own [little] load [of oppressive faults], Galatians 6:3-5.

Perhaps the apostle Paul witnessed identical warning signs in the Church at Galatia. At the heart of this problem was a superiority complex passed on by a religious sect known as the Judaizers. Rather than loving neighbors as yourself, the Judaizers forced Gentile Christians to become circumcised. Whenever churches deviate from the apostles teaching, important needs go unrecognized or met. Therefore, if you want to make a difference, start carrying the load of burdens from other believers today, Philippians 2:15-16.

by Jay Mankus

The Devil or Bad Decisions?

Behind the scenes, ungodly beliefs and self fulfilled prophecies lurk within human minds. Whispers of “you’re not good enough, you’ll never amount to anything or everybody else is doing it,” play like a commercial in your thought life. Depending upon how you deal with these distractions, you might blame the Devil for your current ordeal. However, whenever individuals lose confidence, circumstances are prime for bad decisions to be conceived. When common sense is ignored, consequences of poor choices come to the forefront.

And the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? And why do you look sad and depressed and dejected? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it, Genesis 4:6-7.

Take the first child born on earth. Cain followed in his father’s footsteps as a farmer. However, as the curse in Genesis 3:17 commenced, the earth’s soil turned from fertile ground into an arid desert. Subsequently, as his younger brother Abel prospered as a shepherd, envy and jealousy began to consume Cain’s soul. This dire situation caused God to intervene, warning Cain of the sin crouching at the door of his heart. Unfortunately, the Lord was too late as Cain already made up him mind. It was only a matter of time before Cain’s thoughts were acted upon.

Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one. 14 But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions). 15 Then the evil desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully matured, brings forth death, James 1:13-15.

The earthly brother of Jesus makes sure God is not one to blame for temptation. Rather, those who give into temptation slowly ponder their options before finally taking steps toward the dark side. Whether it’s a second glance, a season of idleness or lustful passions that you can’t hold back any further, when sin is conceived it fills your minds until you finally give into a variety of fantasies. In the end, the only way to escape temptation, 1 Corinthians 10:13, is by purging all reminders of your past sins so that you find the way out that God provides.

by Jay Mankus

Receiving the Holy Spirit

William McDowell – Spirit Break Out (Lyrics) – YouTube

Every generation contains individuals who attempt to reinvent that which has already occurred. Whether as some sort of superiority complex or stubbornness, these confident people refuse to back down regardless of what others believe, proclaim or think. Participating in a debate to expose a specific flawed mindset seems to be a productive use of time. However, when the crowd you are trying to convince doesn’t budge, even persuasive words can’t turn a hardened heart.

O you poor and silly and thoughtless and unreflecting and senseless Galatians! Who has fascinated or bewitched or cast a spell over you, unto whom—right before your very eyes—Jesus Christ (the Messiah) was openly and graphically set forth and portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the [Holy] Spirit as the result of obeying the Law and doing its works, or was it by hearing [the message of the Gospel] and believing [it]? [Was it from observing a law of rituals or from a message of faith?] – Galatians 3:1-2

In the middle of the first Century, a group of new Christians formed a sect to appease Jews who didn’t want to let go of following the Torah. According to the apostle Paul, a group known as the Judaizers infiltrated the Church at Galatia. Unwilling to let go of Jewish traditions, these religious leaders began to convince members of the church to add circumcision to salvation. Ingrained within many followers from birth, this new teaching spread quickly throughout the Galatian Church. Subsequently, Jewish Christians began to look down upon and separate from Gentile converts to Christianity. Thus, Paul rebukes leaders in the passage above.

Have you suffered so many things and experienced so much all for nothing (to no purpose)—if it really is to no purpose and in vain? Then does He Who supplies you with His marvelous [Holy] Spirit and works powerfully and miraculously among you do so on [the grounds of your doing] what the Law demands, or because of your believing in and adhering to and trusting in and relying on the message that you heard? – Galatians 3:4-5

In recent years, new debates often related to theology have caused divisions within the 21st century church. One common dispute involves receiving the Holy Spirit. Some denominations claim that this is only accomplished immediately following a believer’s baptisms. Other doctrines refer to a Day of Pentecost moment where individuals experience a similar outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When these two ideologies clash, I’ve witnessed nasty confrontations on both sides. Yet, according to the Bible, Romans 8:1-8 and Romans 10:9-11 highlight how people of faith can receive the Holy Spirit today. May this occur without any hesitation so that lives are transformed by God’s Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

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