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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

The Greatest Gift of All

At the end of every year, talk shows reflect upon the current one to ascertain the best and greatest moments. Political programs focus on accomplishments and failures while sports talk tends to debate the greatest of all time. As another Christmas Day arrives, your mind may wander to consider the greatest gift you have ever received. Yet, there is one gift found in the Bible that claims to be eternal.

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.

Comparing gifts and presents from year to year may uplift a generous giver in your family. Yet, the older I become, a gift may simply be having your entire family present for Christmas. While it’s hard to fathom the greatest gift I’ve ever received over the past 52 years, my favorite was a letter from a friend in college. After going an entire semester without hearing from them, opening this card brought tears of joy to me.

And this is that testimony (that evidence): God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who possesses the Son has that life; he who does not possess the Son of God does not have that life. 13 I write this to you who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) the name of the Son of God [in [c]the peculiar services and blessings conferred by Him on men], so that you may know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that you [already] have life, [d]yes, eternal life, 1 John 5:11-13.

The New Testament of the Bible mentions the greatest spiritual gift ever provided to mankind. A Pharisee named Nicodemus was the first to hear about this future offering in John 3:16-17. The apostle Paul eludes to this in a letter to the Church at Rome. Meanwhile, the earthly brother of Jesus refers to an assurance of this eternal gift. All you have to do is accept Jesus into your life as a personal Lord and Savior. While you may receive many gifts this Christmas, eternal life in heaven is the greatest gift of all.

by Jay Mankus

The Shedding of Sin

All snakes go through the process of shedding their skin. Every two to four times a year, shedding skin allows further growth of a snakes’ scales. Since older skin doesn’t grow while snakes grow, a new skin starts forming below the old one. Just as a snake needs to shed its skin to develop to its full adult size, Christians must shed sin to mature and become the person God wants you to be.

Just think of Him Who endured from sinners such grievous opposition and bitter hostility against Himself [reckon up and consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you may not grow weary or exhausted, losing heart and relaxing and fainting in your minds, Hebrews 12:3.

As the Hall of Faith ends, Hebrews 11, the author of Hebrews uses the imagery of saints in heaven looking down upon modern day Christians. As human beings participate in the marathon called life, you will reach moments where you will need to start shedding the things that weigh you down. Just like a snake which sheds their skin, Christian must start shedding sins of their past and present.

You have not yet struggled and fought agonizingly against sin, nor have you yet resisted and withstood to the point of pouring out your [own] blood, Hebrews 12:4.

As another new year draws near, resolutions will be made to lose weight, start exercising and begin doing what you’ve always wanted to do. Breaking the chains of addiction, bad habits and poor choices can be grueling. Yet, as you start shedding sinful desires, you don’t have to die on a cross like Jesus. Nonetheless, in order to reach your full potential, the shedding of sin is part of the process as Christians seek to further God’s kingdom on earth.

by Jay Mankus

Redefining Greatness in the Eyes of Heaven

The saying “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder” is attributed to Margaret Hungerford. Using the pen name “the Duchess,” Margaret wrote this expression in one of her Irish proverbs. During his lifetime, King Solomon created over 1000 songs and 3000 proverbs. The purpose of these old wise sayings was to develop a spiritual mindset. Without some sort of transformation, human beings aren’t able to comprehend what’s great in God’s eyes.

But this is not to be so with you; on the contrary, let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as One Who serves. 28 And you are those who have remained [throughout] and persevered with Me in My trials; Luke 22:26-28.

Using a sports analogy, talk shows weekly debate who is the G.O,A.T? Whether it’s a cable or radio program, there is something about ascertaining the greatest of all time. Various opinions collide just like the disciples who wanted to prove to Jesus that they were better than everyone else in the room. This sets the stage for Jesus to quickly shift gears from an earthly perspective toward heaven. While God has great things prepared in advance for every believer, Philippians 1:6, the ultimate goal is serving others.

But this is not to be so among you; instead, whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, 44 And whoever wishes to be most important and first in rank among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to have service rendered to Him, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for ([y]instead of) many, Mark 10:43-45.

One thing that makes leaders stand out are those individuals who just don’t say the right thing, but back up their words with action. As Jesus was about to lay down his life on a cross, He likely saw his life flash before his eyes. Similar to flashbacks in a movie, Jesus is reclining at a table with his friends for the last time as a human being. Adrenaline and emotions were likely flowing as they departed this upper room singing hymns. Following Jesus’ resurrection, the first breakfast in John 21:8-11 gave Jesus the opportunity to fully redefine greatness in the eyes of heaven.

by Jay Mankus

When a Communion Ceremony Turned into a Pissing Match

The content of your conversation reflects the type of person that you are. Everyone has a hot button, a topic that you can talk about for hours at a time. Depending upon who you are talking with, you may be tempted to one up whoever is speaking. Following the conclusion of their story, you may brag, embellish or exaggerate to impress everyone in the room. This is exactly what happened when Jesus’ disciples turned the first communion ceremony into a pissing match of who’s the best.

Then He took a loaf [of bread], and when He had given thanks, He broke [it] and gave it to them saying, This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. 20 And in like manner, He took the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament or covenant [ratified] in My blood, which is shed (poured out) for you. 21 But, behold, the hand of him who [a]is now engaged in betraying Me is with Me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined and appointed, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed and delivered up! 23 And they began to inquire among themselves which of them it was who was about to do this, Luke 22:19-23.

Insecurities tend to cause human beings to want to be liked by their peers. Subsequently, you may lie or pretend to be what is popular, trendy or socially acceptable. This masquerade continues until you’re fully comfortable with the person that you’ve become or you no longer care about what other people think. In the case of the twelve disciples, each one was trying to impress Jesus, hoping to become his favorite. This insecurity spawned a look how much better I am than you debate.

But Jesus said to them, The kings of the Gentiles [c]are deified by them and exercise lordship [[d]ruling as emperor-gods] over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors and well-doers. 26 But this is not to be so with you; on the contrary, let him who is the greatest among you become like the youngest, and him who is the chief and leader like one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, the one who reclines at table (the master), or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as One Who serves, Luke 22:25-27.

This earthly mindset is exposed in the passage above. Heaven isn’t concerned about who the best is at this or that. Rather, heaven rejoices at the sight of Christians humbling themselves so that they develop a heart to serve others. Jesus didn’t just talk a good game; He was willing to lay down his life for sinners, Romans 5:8. Therefore, the next time someone tries to get you to participate in a I’m a better Christian than you debate, steer this conversation toward becoming the greatest servant of all.

by Jay Mankus

Reaching a Point Where You Can Come and Go Freely

Anytime a child leaves home for college or a new job, a true sense of independence is realized. Unless you have a roommate, for the first time in life aspiring students don’t have anyone to tell them when to come or go. This freedom can be liberating with the whole world ready for you to explore. While the mature will be able to handle this, there are many college students and young adults who experience their own version of the prodigal son or daughter.

Jesus used this parable (illustration) with them, but they did not understand what He was talking about.So Jesus said again, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that I Myself am the Door [a]for the sheep, John 10:6-7.

While the passage above isn’t the parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus provides the Bible’s version of the Motel 6 slogan. Instead of saying, “we’ll leave the light on for you,” Jesus introduces his open door policy for his followers. Referring to Himself as the Door, Jesus is the way to heaven. Unfortunately, countless individuals look for an alternate route, trying to find a back or side entrance. This invitation isn’t forced, but Jesus encourages his sheep to come and go as they please.

All others who came [as such] before Me are thieves and robbers, but the [true] sheep did not listen to and obey them. I am the Door; anyone who enters in through Me will be saved (will live). He will come in and he will go out [freely], and will find pasture, John 10:8-9.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee in life. Jesus uses a hypothetical scenario of thieves and robbers who will disrupt your life. During these exchanges, you may have valuable possessions stolen from your car, house or place of work. This is what happens when sheep venture outside of God’s pen. Freewill allows any Christian to come and go as they wish. No one is forcing you to go to church, pray or read the Bible. Yet, if you want to experience the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10, listen to and obey the Shepherd. Then you will reach a point where you can come and go about life freely.

by Jay Mankus

Maintaining a Clear Perspective While Coping with Grief

I’ve never dealt well with funerals. I have a hard enough time of thinking of what to say on a normal day let alone trying to console grieving family members. One of the best words of advice I’ve ever received is to never say “I know how you feel..” Rather, the best thing you can do for a grieving individual is give them a hug and reply “when you’re ready to talk, I’m all ears.” Yet, no human advice can replace the wisdom found in the Bible,

The Lord is building up Jerusalem; He is gathering together the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds [curing their pains and their sorrows], Psalm 147:2-3.

The Psalmist refers to dark times in the history of Israel. Due to a lack of disobedience, God allowed this nation to be conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The Old Testament speaks of these periods as living in exile as many were taken from and forced to live in these two different countries. In the passage above, the exile lead to a broken heart as the Psalmist struggled to accept why God let this happen.

Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away, Revelation 21:3-4.

Meanwhile, one of Jesus’ disciples provides an eternal perspective of the future. Dealing with adversity, hardship and pain is not a pleasant experience. The best way to maintain a clear perspective while coping with grief is to see life on earth as temporary. According to John, when Christians enter eternal life in heaven, God will wipe away all of our tears. Therefore, while the present may be filled with disappointment and pain, lean on the Holy Spirit to get you through the grieving process of death.

by Jay Mankus

Assisting God Behind the Scenes

An assist in basketball is a pass to a teammate that directly leads to a basket or field goal. While the exact origin of an assist in this sport is unknown, the most common assumption is that it came from earlier times when pay phones were available across the US. Giving a stranger a dime to complete their call derived the term assist. From a spiritual perspective, angels regularly assist God behind the scenes. Sometimes in the form of a guardian angel or nudge you in the right direction.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your dwelling place, 10 There shall no evil befall you, nor any plague or calamity come near your tent. 11 For He will give His angels [especial] charge over you to accompany and defend and preserve you in all your ways [of obedience and service]. 12 They shall bear you up on their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone, Psalm 91:9-12.

The Psalmist makes it clear about the role angels play in life. As Christians learn to draw near to God, it’s like going on a camping trip. If you are the kind of person who enjoys making a fire, as your relationship with God strengthens, the presence of the Holy Spirit is sensed daily. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the Lord sends angels to accompany, defend and preserve you as your walk with Jesus. This is the kind of assistance that angels provide.

Are not the angels all ministering spirits (servants) sent out in the service [of God for the assistance] of those who are to inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:14

In the New Testament, one author devotes an entire chapter to the relationship between angels and Jesus. At the conclusion of this section, the purpose of angels is revealed. Angels are ministering spirits, servants sent out to assist God. The ultimate goal of angels is to lead human heart toward eternity in heaven. One of Jesus’ parables illustrate the celebration that goes on in heaven when a lost sheep that has been lost is found and brought home, Luke 15:1-7.

Overcoming an Emotionally Draining Job

Every adult has experienced the unfortunate reality of having an emotionally draining job. This exhaustion may come from a stressful work atmosphere, dealing with difficult co-workers, the physical wearing and tear on your body or long 60 hour work weeks. Some of you may have to endure one of these factors while others of you face all four day after day and week after week. To those of you in a leadership role, the Bible does provide a plan to overcome an emotionally draining job.

And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices [to offer] to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. 13 Next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, What is this that you do for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening? – Exodus 18:12-14

Prior to a visit from his father in law, Moses worked sun up to sun down. Instead of developing a justice system, Moses tried to be Judge Judy, head of the People’s Court and a Supreme Court justice. After observing for a couple of days, Jethro realized that Moses had become a lone ranger, trying to do everything by himself. Jethro’s solution to overcoming an emotionally draining job was to adopt the art of delegation. Sometimes you have to communicate to your boss, “I can’t do everything.”

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, The thing that you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear out both yourself and this people with you, for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it all by yourself. 19 Listen now to [me]; I will counsel you, and God will be with you. You shall represent the people before God, bringing their cases and causes to Him, 20 Teaching them the decrees and laws, showing them the way they must walk and the work they must do. 21 Moreover, you shall choose able men from all the people—God-fearing men of truth who hate unjust gain—and place them over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, to be their rulers, Exodus 18:17-21.

Similar to the process set up by Jesus prior to his ascension into heaven, the Great Commission is a form of delegation to spread the Gospel throughout the world, Mark 16:14-20. King Solomon writes about the importance of relationships in Proverbs 27:17. When two individuals agree to hold one another accountable, positive criticism sharpens you. Yet, when you are emotionally run down, a friend can become a sounding board and a source of encouragement to give you the strength to carry on.

by Jay Mankus

The Last Temptation

The Last Temptation of Christ was a controversial film directed by Martin Scorsese. This 1988 movie deviated from the New Testament Scripture Hebrews 4:14-16, using a what if concept to imply Jesus gave into a final temptation. Yet, one of Jesus’ disciples tells the real story in the passage below. The first temptation focuses on physical desires. The second temptation is like a dare given by teenage friends that tests human minds. However, it’s the last temptation which most people can relate to, exchanging eternity in heaven for temporary control and power on earth.

Then Jesus was led (guided) by the [Holy] Spirit into the wilderness (desert) to be tempted (tested and tried) by the devil. And He went without food for forty days and forty nights, and later He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, If You are God’s Son, command these stones to be made [[a]loaves of] bread. But He replied, It has been written, Man shall not live and be upheld and sustained by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God, Matthew 4:1-4.

This is not to diminish the first two temptations as many human beings struggle with food and beverage addictions. Nor I am overlooking anorexia and bulimia that has a way of paralyzing countless souls. Trying to prove oneself often leads to mind games similar to that which the serpent played with Adam and Eve. Yet, the idea of possessing control and power over others is too good to pass up. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at all the life long congress men and women who will do whatever it takes to get re-elected no matter what the cost or consequences.

Then the devil took Him into the holy city and placed Him on [b]a turret (pinnacle, [c]gable) of the temple [d]sanctuary. And he said to Him, If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, He will give His angels charge over you, and they will bear you up on their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone. Jesus said to him, [e]On the other hand, it is written also, You shall not tempt, [f]test thoroughly, or [g]try exceedingly the Lord your God, Matthew 4:5-7.

Using his charm as a former archangel, the devil takes Jesus to the highest mountain in the Middle East. Despite being tired and hungry from fasting for 40 days, Jesus doesn’t fall for this attention seeking ploy. Remembering the first commandment written down my Moses, Jesus doesn’t waste time, quickly rejecting the Devil’s final temptation. Unfortunately, many human beings end up like Eve in the Garden of Eden, considering the possibilities of the Tree of Knowledge. There is nothing new about New Age philosophies except for the people pushing them.

Again, the devil took Him up on a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory (the splendor, magnificence, preeminence, and excellence) of them. And he said to Him, These things, all taken together, I will give You, if You will prostrate Yourself before me and do homage and worship me. 10 Then Jesus said to him, Begone, Satan! For it has been written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him alone shall you serve. 11 Then the devil departed from Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him, Matthew 4:8-11.

This leads me to the question: why are so many Christians unable to resist temptation? What causes the masses to cave to forbidden fruit by indulging in temporary pleasures? Is this more a byproduct of a hollow faith or merely a sign of spiritual immaturity? Whatever the reason, Christians need to be more like the individual in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12. Perhaps it’s time to look at the person in the mirror to see who you have really become. In the meantime, stopping looking for excuses to keep sinning by start scanning the room for an escape route, the way out of temptation, 1 Corinthians 10:11-13.

by Jay Mankus

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