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Tag Archives: Jesus

The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction.  In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea.  One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen.  These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene.  Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus.  Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced.  Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus.  Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen.  This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

“You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him.  It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants.  Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit.  Any type of change is difficult.  However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible.  Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted.  As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains.  For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

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The Degrading Power of Sin

The Bible is littered with depressing, shocking and troubling accounts of people who have fallen from grace.  Jealousy led Cain to kill his brother Abel after God was not pleased with his offering.  Abraham lied to a king, claiming that his wife was his sister, afraid that he might get killed.  Love caused Samson to marry and sleep with an enemy of Israel.  Lust drove David to commit adultery and murder to be with the woman of his dreams.  These are just a few examples of the degrading power of sin.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their own hearts to [sexual] impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them [abandoning them to the degrading power of sin], Romans 1:24.

Those who fall prey and become ensnared by sin do so due to a spiritual problem.  The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church of Corinth encouraging members to take their thoughts captive.  When minds begin to wonder, temporary pleasures supersede desires to retain the knowledge of God.  While not everyone gives into temptation, sin has a seductive power like an addiction that won’t leave you alone.

For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. For the willingness [to do good] is present in me, but the doing of good is not. 19 For the good that I want to do, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want to do, I am no longer the one doing it [that is, it is not me that acts], but the sin [nature] which lives in me, Romans 7:18-20.

Within a chapter to Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul confesses sins power over his own life.  Paul details failures, struggles and the crippling power of sin reigning within his life.  Like a caged wild animal, the sinful nature within human beings is too strong to control on your own.  When sin leads souls on the door steps of temptation, only one name can help you escape from behind the devil’s door.  Call out to Jesus and you will be saved, Romans 10:9-11, on the path toward restoration.

by Jay Mankus

The Hunger

Appetites and thirst are an internal signal that our bodies want food and drink.  When it’s hot thirst drives individuals to stay hydrated.  Meanwhile, when you miss a meal, hunger pains may persuade you to binge, raid the refrigerator or order take out to satisfy this desire.  However, God designed human beings with a soul, craving a different kind of hunger.

After He had gone without food for forty days and forty nights, He became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus replied, “It is written and forever remains written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God,’” Matthew 4:2-4.

As Jesus prepared for his three year ministry on earth, a fast was performed to focus solely on God.  In this vulnerable state, the Devil tempted Jesus with food, hoping Jesus’ physical need for food would override his spiritual preparations.  Instead, Jesus reminds the Devil that God desires human beings to meditate on God’s Word day and night, Joshua 1:7-8.  While food satisfies the stomach, spiritual nuggets fuel the soul.

For the [pagan] Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; [but do not worry,] for your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also, Matthew 6:32-33.

During a segment on worry, Jesus uses common sense to illustrate how God provides.  This portion of the Sermon on the Mount focuses on the proper attitude individuals should possess.  Instead of being consumed by worry, believers should develop a spiritual hunger for righteousness.  When God and the Bible become your main priority on earth, everything else falls naturally into place.  While hunger pains may come and go, may the hunger for God keep your soul satisfied daily.

by Jay Mankus

Bring Me Back

Sometimes life is like being placed into a giant maze without a map.  Whenever you make the wrong turn, its like one step forward, two steps back.  As soon as you hit a dead end, you have to go back to where you started, retracing your steps to find a way out.  If you don’t have any helper, guide or visible signs, this journey will last much longer than expected.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad and easy to travel is the path that leads the way to destruction and eternal loss, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow and difficult to travel is the path that leads the way to [everlasting] life, and there are few who find it, Matthew 7:13-14.

The Bible serves as a road map to bring you back to God’s desired destination.  During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compares life to a series of roads.  The most popular ones are like interstate highways, well defined and marked.  However, Jesus uses the analogy of a small path to illustrate the road to heaven.  Somebody has cleared the path, but if you stray off to the left or right, its easy to lose your way.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1.

The author of Hebrews refers to a great Hall of Faith, saints who have showed people the way to heaven.  Comparing life to a marathon, completing this race requires endurance and persistence.  When I get up each morning, I don’t always feel like doing the right thing.  There are plenty of days when I am exhausted, tired and worn down with little motivation to stay on track.  The group Evanescence sings about this state in their song Bring Me Back to Life.  This blog and song are dedicated to those who need to be brought back into God’s presence.

by Jay Mankus

JFK and Jesus

John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States.  Prior to his assassination in November 1963, JFK’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961 contains one of the most powerful comments ever made by a sitting president. “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  This statement was a request to urge citizens to become active participants in making America a better place to live.

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen, 1 Peter 4:9-11.

While JFK was a political leader, Jesus developed a spiritual following, curing, hearing and teaching a new philosophy about life.  This message included a demonstration of what it means to serve others by laying down his own life.  Jesus practiced what he preached, laying down his life by dying on a cross.  In modern times, Christians tend to be too me focused, expecting God to show up and do something miraculous.  Yet, if believers applied JFK’s challenge to Christianity, prayer lives would be transformed by a mind searching for ways to serve God daily.

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.

In the passage above, the apostle Paul implies that the local church needs your help.  Just like the old Uncle Sam posters used to recruit soldiers, Paul urges the church of Rome to take an inventory of the present gifts and talents.  When a piece or part is missing, the body of Christ does not function as the Holy Spirit and God desires.  Therefore, when you add JFK’s speech to Jesus’ selfless example, volunteers begin to come forward.  Instead of 10% of a church body doing 90% of the work, applying spiritual gifts within a congregation fills in the missing parts.  Therefore, don’t ask what your country can do for you.  Rather, ask God how you can serve your local church and community by praying to God.

by Jay Mankus

 

Dear Agony

Passion Week celebrates the last week of Jesus’ life as a human being. Today, churches will have Maundy Thursday services recounting the last supper. Bible verses will be read, a betrayal will be revealed and a new covenant introduced now known as Holy Communion. Yet, during a 24 hour period, Jesus endured agony that few have ever experienced.

Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart, Hebrews 12:3.

This series of events began when a disciple, Judas Iscariot, agreed to a bribe in exchange for handing Jesus over to the authorities. False witnesses attempted to smear Jesus’ reputation, soldiers punched Jesus in the face and flogged him, ripping most of the skin off his body. When this torture was completed, Jesus was mocked, ridiculed and had a four inch thick crown of thorns driven into his skull. Then, the long walk to Golgotha began.

You have not yet struggled to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; Hebrews 12:4.

The author of Hebrews addresses the topic of agony in the passages above. If you are having a bad day, rough week or undergoing extreme circumstances, a question is asked. Are you on the verge of death, hanging from a cross? If not, consider him, Jesus, who shed his blood as the perfect lamb of God. The agony Jesus endured was a payment for sin, to save the world, John 3:16-17. Therefore, if you are overcome by the pain of agony, hang in there by casting your concerns up to God in prayer.

by Jay Mankus

Why Are You So Amazed?

Astonish, bewilder, flabbergast and stupefy are words synonymous with amaze. Throughout the course of history, there has been numerous jaw dropping events that have left eyewitnesses dumbfounded. Some may likely ponder “did that just happen or am I dreaming?” When human minds can’t explain, fathom or understand an occurrence like the parting of the Red Sea, amazement is a common response.

“With the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up, the flowing waters stood up like a mound; the deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea, Exodus 15:8.”

After healing a man crippled from birth, Peter doesn’t know why people are so surprised. Two months earlier, a man was nailed to a cross, rose from the dead, spent 40 days with his followers and ascended into heaven. This is the context of Peter’s comment below. Perhaps, Peter was remembering accounts of the Exodus out of Egypt, referring to those who saw Moses part the Red Sea in two. The moment Jesus conquered death, this opened the door for anything else to be possible.

And Peter, seeing this, said to the people, “You men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? – Acts 3:12

The phrase seeing is believing is an idiom that was first recorded in 1639. Eyewitnesses to events that defy science trigger an inner desire to believe in a higher power. The lame man healed in Acts 3 occurs during the hour of prayer, between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. When participants of this prayer service began to see the fruit of crying out to God, expectations increased. The point that Peter is making about amazement is that when you keep in step with the Holy Spirit, God has the power to move mountains. For those individuals on fire for God, faith provides the hope to tarry on in prayer.

by Jay Mankus

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