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Embrace Progress Over Perfection in 2023

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was a textbook that my high school students became familiar with at Red Lion. Yet, as their Bible teacher, one phrase has stuck with me the past twenty years, “success is the process of arrival.” Like the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12-14, Christians don’t arrive in heaven on earth. Rather, the sanctification process of God’s grace takes a lifetime to complete. Therefore, embrace progress over perfection in 2023 as success is a process, not actually arriving.

The steps of a [good] man are directed and established by the Lord when He delights in his way [and He busies Himself with his every step]. 24 Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord grasps his hand in support and upholds him, Psalm 37:23-24.

I guess you can say King David learned this lesson the hard way following his affair with Bathsheba. After being rebuked by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-11, David’s imperfections turned into a generational sin. Perhaps, the words in the passage above are David’s attempt to embrace small steps of spiritual progress. Whenever anyone stumbles in life due to acts of disobedience, you have to learn all over again how to keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you, Philippians 1:6.

The apostle Paul touches on embracing progress over perfection. Paul understood that Jesus calls his followers to strive for perfection in Matthew 5:48, but faith is a lifelong process. Therefore, while you will have periods of backsliding, idleness or rebellion like the prodigal son in Luke 15, God still has a plan for your life. Just as the prophet Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh the route God intended, embrace progress over perfection so that God will finish the work that He began in you this year.

by Jay Mankus

A Protective Shield

Beside a vehicle with a brand-new windshield, not many Christians see God as a protective shield. While the apostle Paul introduces the shield of faith as a vital piece of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20, King David compared the Lord to an impenetrable shield in the passage below. Like the shade of a tree on a heat summer day, God is a place of refuge to cool off until you regain your strength.

The Lord is my Strength and my [impenetrable] Shield; my heart trusts in, relies on, and confidently leans on Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him, Psalm 28:7.

As the leader of the Army of Israel, David was familiar with weapons of war. According to one Old Testament historian, kings would lead their countries off to battle each spring, 2 Samuel 11:1. Since Israel is 1516 feet above sea level, armies would have to wait until for snow to melt before the roads they traveled on were passable. While David became famous for killing the Philistines prized giant with 5 stones and a sling shot, he understood the need for the shield of faith.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand [the side not carrying a shield], Psalm 121:5.

Another Psalmist points out that soldiers would carry their shields with their left hands. Since only 10 percent of human beings are left hand dominant, the right hand was used to carry and maneuver swords. During a break in the action with two armies of equal strength, soldiers would burrow in the sand or soil by hiding under their shield. Subsequently, the Psalmist makes an analogy of what God is like. The Lord keeps us alive in battle as well as serving as a protective shade from the sun. May these two Psalms help you see God in a new and powerful way.

by Jay Mankus

The One Who Keeps You From Stumbling

King David likely wrote the below Psalm as he was reminded of his days serving as a lowly shepherd. David wrote about the rocky terrain which shepherds often faced after more favorable fields of grass were depleted. As a former cross-country runner, I know all about stumbling and twisting my ankles during races on an uneven terrain. Yet, David speaks of a God who can keep you from stumbling.

The God who girds me with strength and makes my way perfect? 33 He makes my feet like hinds’ feet [able to stand firmly or make progress on the dangerous heights of testing and trouble]; He sets me securely upon my high places, Psalm 18:32-33.

Despite this perspective, David did stumble and fall, big time, as described by 2 Samuel 11-12. David writes about this painful moment in Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. Idleness led David to not show up for work, going to war with Israel’s army, had an affair and once Bathsheba got pregnant, he tried to cover this up by giving her husband leave to sleep with his wife. When Uriah refused to go into his house, David panicked and sent Uriah out to die in battle.

He will not allow your foot to slip or to be moved; He Who keeps you will not slumber, Psalm 121:3.

While this fall from grace is epic, David learned to see God as the One who keep you from stumbling. Perhaps, David understood what the apostle Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 10:13, learning to search for the way out of temptation following his rebuke by the prophet Nathan. Then again, it’s possible David is literally focusing on God’s ability to keep his feet from twisting an ankle. Whatever the interpretation, both can apply as Christians learn to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. Episode 242: Take Courage

Courage is one of those traits that is often hidden until a crisis, event or circumstance forces individuals to act. If you’re caught off guard, you may freeze like a deer stunned by the headlights of a moving vehicle. If you do flunk a test of faith, it’s not the end of the world. This is where King David calls believers in the Lord to take courage internally so that you can recover spiritually.

Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord, Psalm 27:14.

Kristene DiMarco offers up a similar call in her song Take Courage. The apostle Paul warns Christians to arm yourself with spiritual weapons to take your stand against the Devil, Ephesians 6:10-20. The lyrics of Take Courage point to what is possible when Christians begin to fix their eyes on Jesus. Whatever you may be currently facing, miracles happen when you fix your eyes on Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

The Angels of the Four Corners of the Earth

One of the visions by John that makes up the book of Revelation alludes to archangels. Bible scholars agree that archangels are assigned to the Four Directions, ” “Four Corners” or “Four Winds of the earth”. After doing some research, Uriel oversees the north, Michael watches the south, Raphael concentrates on the east, and Gabriel is the guardian of the west. These are the angels of the Four Corners of the Earth.

After this I saw four angels stationed at the four corners of the earth, [a]firmly holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind should blow on the earth or sea or upon any tree, Revelation 7:1.

The archangels continue to reside in the supernatural realm today. While most people have never seen an angel, you may feel or sense one’s presence. Perhaps you were delayed for a few minutes so that you avoided that major accident on your way home from work. Unfortunately, I tend to be so busy and consumed with my own weekly schedule that I don’t take time to consider these angelic warriors.

The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him [who revere and worship Him with awe] and each of them He delivers, Psalm 34:7.

According to King David, the angel of the Lord surrounds those who fear, revere and worship God. Bible scholars believe David is either referring to commissioned agents of God, a celestial court, manifestation of Divine presence or Jehovah Himself. While certain regions are controlled by powers of darkness, Ephesians 6:12, archangels delegate other angelic servants to help maintain order in their corner. As you read today’s featured passage, may you begin to appreciate what goes on in the spiritual realm.

by Jay Mankus

The Just Shall Live by Faith

Just refers to behaving according to what is morally right and fair. Yet, when I think of just, I envision someone justifying why they do what they do. Since I’m not an analytical person, I rarely contemplate the why in my daily life. Perhaps, this is due to a tendency to rely on feelings, what my heart is telling me to do or say. I don’t consider myself to be just. Rather, I follow my convictions with the Holy Spirit the wind beneath my wings as Bette Midler once sang.

But the just shall live by faith [My righteous servant shall live [f]by his conviction respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it]; and if he draws back and shrinks in fear, My soul has no delight or pleasure in him, Hebrews 10:38.

In the passage above, the author of one New Testament book examines how faith regulates the life of a Christian. Or should I say, what an active faith resembles. Beneath the surface, conviction from human consciences was designed by God to keep danger out by staying within the boundaries laid out in the Old Testament. When faith is great, fear shrinks as a holy fervor inspires individuals to pursue things that delight the Lord.

But our way is not that of those who draw back to eternal misery (perdition) and are utterly destroyed, but we are of those who believe [who cleave to and trust in and rely on God through Jesus Christ, the Messiah] and by faith preserve the soul, Hebrews 10:39.

Unfortunately, when human consciences become seared by actively indulging fleshly desires, it’s hard to go back to your life prior to becoming a prodigal. Sin has a way of entertaining you longer than expected, but leaves you feeling empty. This is the misery King David wrote about in Psalm 32:3-4. Before the darkness destroys what you have, respect your relationship with God. If you don’t have one, don’t delay so that you may begin the journey of the just who live by faith, Romans 10:9-11.

by Jay Mankus

When Faith Does Not Hold Up Under Temptation

Despite how proud you may be, everyone experiences an embarrassing moment in life like Simon Peter. One day you boldly proclaim “I’ll never do that” only to succumb to temptation in the days or weeks that follow. When actions don’t match what you say or believe, hypocrisy leaves a sour taste for those observing this fall from grace. This is one of the consequences of what happens when faith does not hold up under temptation.

Not to allow your minds to be quickly unsettled or disturbed or kept excited or alarmed, whether it be by some [pretended] revelation of [the] Spirit or by word or by letter [alleged to be] from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has [already] arrived and is here. Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day will not come except the apostasy comes first [unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come], and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition), 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3.

There are several reasons why faith does not hold up under temptation. Sometimes this is a continuation of a spiritual slide that began out of a period of idleness, similar to what happened to King David in 2 Samuel 11:1-2. Meanwhile, faith is only as strong as your environment, Matthew 13:19-23. If spiritual foundations are weak, Colossians 2:6-7, when storms or trials arrive unexpectedly, faith tends to waver as winds and waves continue to strengthen.

Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands [who feels sure that he has a steadfast mind and is standing firm], take heed lest he fall [into sin]. 13 For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently, 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.

In a historic chapter about past failures made by Jewish leaders in the Old Testament, the apostle Paul wraps up this section with a valuable lesson. According to Paul, every temptation offers a way out. Unfortunately, when the pressure to conform mounts, it’s hard to take your eyes off of temporary pleasures. Instead of bowing down to temptation, keep your head up so that you will see the door to escape temptation so that faith will prevail.

by Jay Mankus

The Stewardship of God’s Grace

Stewardship is the conducting, managing and or supervising of a specific operation. The context of the passage below refers to the careful management, entrusted to apostles, to oversee a believer’s spiritual condition. This responsibility isn’t merit based. Rather, the apostle Paul and Jesus’ disciples became the caretakers of the great commission, Acts 1:7-8. As the good news about Jesus Christ spread beyond Jerusalem to surrounding towns and villages, the stewardship of God’s grace continued, Ephesians 2:8.

Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace (His unmerited favor) that was entrusted to me [to dispense to you] for your benefit, [And] that the mystery (secret) was made known to me and I was allowed to comprehend it by direct revelation, as I already briefly wrote you, Ephesians 3:2-3.

Paul was first introduced to this concept on the road to Damascus. This supernatural event altered Paul’s path as a persecutor of the church. Described as a flash of lightning from heaven, before this encounter concluded, the apostle Paul would walk away a transformed man. Yet, Paul was initially blinded by this light, led by his hand to a disciple named Ananias. This divine appointment on the street called Straight ignited a spiritual fire within Paul to propel him to become a steward of God’s grace.

Now as he traveled on, he came near to Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, And he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me [harassing, troubling, and molesting Me]? And Saul said, Who are You, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. It is dangerous and it will turn out badly for you to keep kicking against the goad [to offer vain and perilous resistance], Acts 9:3-5.

In a letter to the Church in Rome, Paul highlights exactly what Jesus did for you and me. “God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for us.” Romans 5:8. One chapter later, Paul compares grace to a free gift, Romans 6:23. Building upon the words of King David, God’s grace is infinite, far greater than the human mind can comprehend, Psalm 103:11-12. This is what makes the stewardship of God’s grace continue today.

by Jay Mankus

Just What I Needed

As a teenager, the Cars became one of my favorite bands in high school. I actually met Rick Ocasek in passing, the lead singer of Cars, while walking through downtown Boston during a Spring Break in college. Ocasek wrote Just What I Needed in a basement at a commune in Newton, Massachusetts. While the inspiration behind this song varies depending upon the site you visit, the title speaks to human beings searching for a boost to get them through each day.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my [brimming] cup runs over. Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place, Psalm 23:5-6.

In the passage above, King David reflects back to his life as a lowly shepherd boy. This eloquent Psalm compares the responsibilities of a shepherd to how God provides for the needs of human beings. Whether you are in green pastures, having a great day or approaching the shadow of death, the Lord is all that you need to weave your way through life. While many search for love in all the wrong places, Jesus is just what I needed, Romans 10:9-11.

And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, Philippians 4:19.

In a letter to the Church at Philippi, the apostle Paul builds upon Psalm 23. Like a global retail chain, the Lord serves as a massive supplier to fill all of our needs. Meanwhile, one of Jesus’ disciples claims that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life, 2 Peter 1:3-4. While songs like Just What I Needed may meet an emotional need, God’s grace, love, and mercy is a spiritual gift from heaven, John 3:16-17. As individuals accept this free gift, Romans 6:23, hearts, souls, and minds come to realize that this is just what I needed.

by Jay Mankus

Grace Comes, Guilt Fades, But Consequences Must Be Endured

Days went by following King David’s decision not to lead Israel into battle, 2 Samuel 11:1. During this extended vacation, David appears to become bored, standing on top of his castle, passing the time. This idleness opened the down for an affair with Bathsheba whose husband was off fighting a war. When David’s plan to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy failed, Uriah was abandoned by his battalion, left to die. Following a series of sinful acts, God waits a year, hoping David would come clean by repenting.

For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun. [Fulfilled in II Sam. 16:21, 22.]13 And David said to Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David, The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die, 2 Samuel 12:12-13.

Since this never happened, God sends the prophet Nathan to visit David. Based upon Samuel’s own words, Nathan skips the typical greeting by going right into a story. Apparently, this message struck a cord with David, stirring up his emotions, wanting the guilty party to be punished. Set up with perfection, Nathan turns to David to reveal, “you are that man.” Blind sided by this analogy, David’s transgressions are brought to light, exposed by this man of God. Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 highlight’s David’s remorse.

Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord and given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that is born to you shall surely die, 2 Samuel 12:14.

At this time in history, the penalty of adultery was death for both participants. Yet, David’s heart felt confession spares David’s and Bathsheba’s lives. While grace comes and guilt fades, sinner’s must endure the consequences of their sin. Subsequently, David is confronted with the death of a child, rebellion within his own house and the generational sin of lust passed down to his children. Being a man after God’s own heart does not exempt you from temptation. Therefore, whenever you make any decision, look for the way out, 1 Corinthians 10:13, as you will reap what you sow.

by Jay Mankus

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