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The Gap Between Reality and Faith

As a young Christian, I had a bad habit of treating prayer like a child sitting on Santa’s lap before Christmas. Looking back, I did receive a good portion of the gifts that I requested. However, when it came to waiting for prayers to be answered, that was another story. I guess I viewed God like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty, wanting everyone to win the lottery. This is just one example of the gap between reality and faith.

And as He saw [k]one single leafy fig tree [l]above the roadside, He went to it but He found nothing but leaves on it [[m]seeing that in the fig tree the fruit appears at the same time as the leaves]. And He said to it, Never again shall fruit grow on you! And the fig tree withered up at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled greatly and asked, How is it that the fig tree has withered away all at once? 21 And Jesus answered them, Truly I say to you, if you have faith (a [n]firm relying trust) and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, Be taken up and cast into the sea, it will be done. 22 And whatever you ask for in prayer, having faith and [really] believing, you will receive, Matthew 21:19-22.

One walk with his disciples illustrates this point in the passage above. Jesus was hungry after a long day of helping broken, poor and troubled souls. Expecting a fig to satisfy his stomach, Jesus reacts when this tree isn’t doing what it was created to do, bear fruit. After placing a curse on this tree, it immediately withers in plain view of the disciples. Curious by this one act, the disciples want to know how and why Jesus did this. Jesus uses this opportunity to highlight the relationship between belief and faith.

But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out], Hebrews 11:6.

Apparently, doubt and unbelief are a major force in the gap between reality and faith. When you go before the Lord in prayer, belief and faith are essential for miracles to happen. If a barrier, mountain or obstacle is standing in your way, do you see the power of God or have you lost hope of ever becoming the person God wants you to be? The author of Hebrews is blunt in the passage above as it’s impossible to please and satisfy God without faith. Subsequently, only when Christians begin to fulfill the will that God has for them will the gap between reality and faith gradually merge into one.

by Jay Mankus

I Could Use a Little Help Down Here

Newscaster Evan Baxter played by comedian Steve Carell leaves Buffalo, New York behind when he wins a seat in Congress. Yet, as Evan moves to Washington D.C. with his family, no one could imagine God’s request, played by Morgan Freeman, for this rising star. This is the background for the 2007 film Evan Almighty where a series of God instances leaves this amateur to commit political suicide, confessing God’s calling to build an ark. My favorite scene occurs when Baxter initially struggles to get his new project going, crying out to God, ” I could use a little help down here.”

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple, Luke 14:25-27.

I usually don’t agree with Hollywood’s portrayal of a biblical truths, especially after their epic flop of Noah in 2014. However, the Almighty films beginning with Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carrey in 2003 and the most recent Evan Almighty, provide a more accurate view of God’s character. After God purchases additional lots and provides all of the supplies to build an ark, Evan agrees to complete this task, unaware of why or when this boat will be needed. This is where many Americans find themselves, unsure if what they are currently doing is worth completing. “Should I move on or keep my word by finishing what I started?”

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples, Luke 14:28-33.

The gospel of Luke refers to 72 other disciples, servants of God, but not part of Jesus’ inner circle. At some point, Jesus challenged those who were eager to become followers. Combining common sense, tough love and wisdom from heaven, Jesus doesn’t want people to regret making a decision. Luke 9:57-62 highlights three different conversations that Jesus had with individuals who weren’t fully committed. Thus, each turned back, going on with the rest of their life. As 2020 quickly heads toward February, maybe it’s time for you take a moment to reflect. Are you doing God’s will? Are you uncertain about your career, college or future plans? Before you feel overwhelmed by life, don’t forget to ask God daily like Evan, ” I could use a little help down here.”

by Jay Mankus

Satan’s Secret Ambition

Anytime an individual loses a lofty status, there is something inside that churns souls to regain that which was lost.  This same passion was present inside Lucifer once expelled from heaven along with a third of the angels.  Satan’s secret ambition is revealed during Jesus’ fast prior to beginning His earthly ministry.  Bitterness, revenge and selfishness fueled this arch angel, waiting for a chance to get pay back.

You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.  You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you, Ezekiel 28:14-15.

According to the Gospels, the first 4 books of the New Testament, Jesus withdraws into the wilderness, a barren region filled with sand, scorpions and serpents.  Hungry and weakening due to the heat, Satan implements a set of 3 challenges to the son of God.  Jesus passes the first test by quoting scripture.  Satan replies with another passage from the Old Testament.  Although Jesus could have fulfilled the second request, this required Jesus to call upon angels for selfish reasons, similar to Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me,” Matthew 4:8-9.

Passing the first two tests with flying colors, Satan offers Jesus the earthly authority Adam lost in the Garden of Eden after failing to keep God’s only rule.  Satan doubled down, desperately seeking praise from God in the form of Jesus bowing down.  Despite a lack of food and sleep, Jesus refused to give into temptation, relying on the Word of God to do the right thing.  Although, Satan did achieve his ultimate goal when Jesus was crucified on a cross, victory only lasted a few days before the resurrection sealed his fate.  In view of Jesus’ final battle, remember that Jesus conquered death so that you and I might live in Him.

by Jay Mankus

Making Sense of Domestic Violence

Unless you’ve been out of the country on vacation, most talk shows listeners and television viewers have gotten an earful from the Ray Rice saga.  After videos showed the Baltimore Ravens star running back beat up his girl friend during the NFL off-season, a recent 2 game suspension for Rice has been perceived too lenient in the public’s eyes, creating a back lash against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.  As Hall of Fame Induction weekend has arrived, the topic of domestic violence won’t go away.  Even Steven A. Smith wasn’t exempt from criticism, given this week off by ESPN after claiming woman shouldn’t provoke men.

Anyway, as ESPN, Fox Sports and local sports channels replay Ray Rice’s apology earlier this week, commentators are at a loss, unable to comprehend Rice’s actions.  Well, to be honest, if everyone’s actions we’re video taped like Jim Carrey in the Truman Show, there would be a lot of hand scratching going on.  Nonetheless, there is an important biblical lesson to learn from this unfortunate incident, often the mind and body do things without any logical or rational explanation.  The apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 7:7-20 as he confesses to losing control despite being disciplined and spirit filled.

Whether you are a pastor, law abiding citizen or criminal, no one can escape the reality of Romans 7:15.  Beneath the surface, souls are losing an invisible battle, Galatians 5:16-18, enabling the flesh to take over.  Once in the driver’s seat, the ugliness of mankind rises to the forefront in the form of acts of the sinful nature.  If you add alcohol to this equation, the probability of violence escalates.  Colossians 3:1-17 gives a blue print for overcoming domestic violence or any other sinful behavior.  If you want answers, the truth can be found in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2.  Eliminating domestic violence from your life starts with a Christ-like attitude and ends with fruits of the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23.  May the transformation detailed in Ephesians 5:1 prevent you releasing your anger on or toward another individual.

by Jay Mankus

The Not-So Ultimate Gift

One of my favorite movies of the last decade is The Ultimate Gift based upon Jim Stovall’s best selling book.  Completed in 2006, this movie centers around Jason Stevens, a pampered rich kid who never had to work a day in his life.  When his grandfather, Red Stevens dies, he is left with a series of 12 tasks called gifts.  Thinking riches are attached, Jason slowly begins to develop motivation to complete these assignments.  What Jason doesn’t realize, this wild goose chase ends up transforming his life from a spoiled brat into a responsible, self reliant man.

Unfortunately, I think I am living out this movie without any cameras, riches or progress.  My first assignment is the gift of unemployment which was bestowed upon me last February.  Inspired to complete a movie God placed in my mind, I spent hundreds of hours, often burning the midnight hour to finish a 90 page script.  A few temporary jobs later, rejection letters galore and daily road blocks, I am back where I started, faced with editing my script, redoing my resume and finding a permanent job.  Like the boy that cried wolf, Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, each day I experience is a not so ultimate gift.

The only thought I can grasp is that maybe all the strange circumstances I have encountered will make a great book one day like Bill Murray’s cross country trek in Larger Than Life with an elephant.  Hollywood can’t make up all of my bizarre happenings I have experienced: an undetective defect in my resume, a demon possessed computer, dead cell phones, false prophet encounters, sure thing leads that don’t materialize and following visions from my dreams without any results.  Despite my complaining, its only been 15 months, a far cry from Israel wandering in the wilderness.  If David had to wait for several years to become king of Israel, I guess I can suck it up until my not-so ultimate gift becomes the gift of work.

by Jay Mankus

Beneath the Surface of a Liar

Liar Liar
     Hollywood has a history of producing music, movies and shows based upon lying.  Fleetwood Mac’s sang about wanting people to tell her sweet little lies in the 1980’s.  Jim Carrey starred in Liar Liar in the 1990’s, a successful lying lawyer forced to tell the truth after his son makes a birthday wish.  Finally, the hit television show Lie to Me focused on the science of discerning whether or not someone is telling the truth in the 2000’s.  Outside of Hollywood, the reality of life is that sooner or later, we lie about something, someone or both.
     Jesus is much more direct than I am, exposing the source of lies in John 8:44.  There is a spiritual element to lying, inspired by the Devil who is the father of all lies.  Lying is just like any other bad habit, once you open the door to it, Ephesians 4:25:27, its hard to break.  This spirit of lying within the body of Christ has produced a generation of hypocrites, overshadowing the light within us, Matthew 6:22-23.  Thus, a Nehemiah like brokenness, Nehemiah 1:3-6, is crucial to set people free from the spirit of lying.
     Colossians 3:1-11 is a blue print to rebuilding your life.  First, your mind has to be in the right place or else you will be fooled by the Devil.  Second, you need to purge yourself from all unhealthy influences or else you will become half-hearted in your quest.  Finally, you need to make a complete U-turn away from any sin and toward God, leading you to the new self.  Neither of these steps are easy, but in the end, what do you want to be remembered for?  Seize the day before tomorrow comes.
by Jay Mankus
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