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The Greater Your Love…The Bigger Your Sacrifice

Jesus makes two transformational comments about love which one disciple couldn’t get off of his mind. The first is made to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Based upon John 7:50-52 and John 19:38-42, the passage below changed Nick’s life. Meanwhile, the second passage was spoken to all 12 disciples during Passion Week. Unfortunately, none of the disciples were mentally prepared for Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten ([d]unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him, John 3:16-17.

Between my best two friends in high school, Carl and Paul, I was voted most likely to get married first. While I spent college trying to figure out which qualities I wanted in a future wife, I was an all or nothing kind of guy so I stayed single as my two friends got married. During a pre-marriage conference in Cleveland, Ohio, I learned that I needed to have a will to love before I could truly love Leanne.

This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love [no one has shown stronger affection] than to lay down (give up) his own life for his friends, John 15:12-13.

As a former middle and high school coach, it’s easy to distinguish the committed from the uncommitted. Attitudes and actions revealed who would become great and who might improve but would likely remain average at best. Jesus didn’t just talk about God in parables. Rather, Jesus was a man of action, living out and fulfilling that which He promised. The greater your love, the bigger your sacrifice as a parent or spouse.

by Jay Mankus

When Jesus is Trying to Get Your Attention

Jesus used parables to entertain anyone who was willing to listen to his stories. Yet, Jesus makes a transitional statement 78 times in the four gospels of the Bible. The phrase “I tell you the truth” is a powerful method to get your attention as Jesus turns an interesting story into a serious conversation. In the words that follow “I tell you the truth,” this is code for pay close attention to what I am about to say.

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, the person whose ears are open to My words [who listens to My message] and believes and trusts in and clings to and relies on Him Who sent Me has (possesses now) eternal life. And he does not come into judgment [does not incur sentence of judgment, will not come under condemnation], but he has already passed over out of death into life. 25 Believe Me when I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, the time is coming and is here now when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear it shall live, John 5:24-25.

Back in my days as a high school Bible teacher, I wasn’t trying to fool or trick anyone. There were usually 3 tests per semester depending upon the class. During each unit review, I would throw in some catch phrases whenever I was about to cover a potential test question. In the case of Jesus, whenever the Bible contains “I tell you the truth,” mouths should stop taking as eager ears open, ready to listen and learn.

Therefore, rejecting all falsity and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor, for we are all parts of one body and members one of another. 26 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], Ephesians 4:25-27.

From an English perspective, therefore is used to introduce a logical conclusion. If X must be true, anytime you come across a therefore while reading the Bible, get ready for a call to action. Meanwhile, Jesus uses parables to make people think. As the disciples pondered what Jesus was trying to communicate, they often privately met with Him to confirm the moral of these stories. As you continue to read the Bible on your own, be ready the next time the Holy Spirit is trying to get your attention.

by Jay Mankus

How Can You Love Your Neighbor When You Hate The Person You’ve Become?

Clive Staples Lewis was an atheist and British writer before becoming a lay theologian. C.S. Lewis once contemplated the concept of loving your neighbor. The following quote reveals his thoughts. You are told to love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings.” This same dilemma exists today as how can you love your neighbor when many people don’t like the person they’ve become.

Teacher, which [e]kind of commandment is great and important (the principal kind) in the Law? [Some commandments are light—which are heavy?] 37 And He replied to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect), Matthew 22:36-37.

Following a series of parables, Jesus is asked by a religious leader a spiritual question. “What’s the most important commandment?” Instead of de-emphasizing the other 9 from the most essential, Jesus divides the commandments into two parts. The first 4 commandments are based upon loving God with the final 6 focused on loving your neighbor. When Christians began to love God with all their hearts, soul and mind, the practice of religion turns into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as [you do] yourself. 40 These two commandments [f]sum up and upon them depend all the Law and the Prophets, Matthew 22:38-40.

When hearts grow cold, love stops naturally flowing out of human beings. If faith is not revived or resuscitated, this lack of love can slowly turn into self hatred for oneself. When sources for love dry up, there is no positivity that bubbles over on to the people you interact with daily. The longer this subtle decay continues, there is no inspiration to love friends and family. The key to loving your neighbor is to tap into the love of God, John 3:16-17. As individuals begin to feel and sense God’s love, desires to pass this on to others is restored. Unfortunately, healing take time. Just hang in there long enough for restoration to ignite your heart with the love of God.

by Jay Mankus

Overcoming A Shipwrecked Faith

There are segments in some of the apostle Paul’s letters where he uses imagery like Jesus. Rather than speak in parables, Paul compares a natural event to a spiritual condition. At the end of his initial letter to Timothy, Paul compares a fading faith to experiencing a shipwreck. Serving as a warning to other first century Christians, Paul calls out two people by name for making a mess of their lives.

Holding fast to faith (that leaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence) and having a good (clear) conscience. By rejecting and thrusting from them [their conscience], some individuals have made shipwreck of their faith, 1 Timothy 1:19.

According to the passage above, one of the reasons believers find themselves slipping into troubled waters is due to a lack of confidence and trust in God. Perhaps Paul is referencing Jonah 1:4-14 where grown men lose all hope as a violent storm is about to destroy their vessel. If not this, Paul might be sharing what he learned while being shipwrecked just off the coast of Malta in Acts 27:13-20. On both occasions, all the passengers on board lost faith.

Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan in order that they may be disciplined [by punishment and learn] not to blaspheme, 1 Timothy 1:20.

If faith is based upon assurance, confidence and hope in the Lord, Hebrews 11:1-6, anyone who is overwhelmed by the external forces confronting them is experiencing a shipwrecked faith. While its unclear what Hymenaeus and Alexander did or didn’t do, Paul uses their fall from grace as a teachable moment for others. If you currently find yourself shipwrecked, trying to pick up of pieces of your life, look to James 1:2-12 to ride out this storm. You may not feel better initially, but as you live and learn from past mistakes, faith will recover as you draw near to God.

by Jay Mankus

The Sequence of Story

A sequence is a particular order in which related events, movements, or things follow each other. In the process of telling a story, the best communicators set the scene using what some writers refer to as the 10 magic words. This information highlights who a story is about and details the journey which is about to begin. Depending upon the author or story teller, the sequence of story involves a beginning, middle and end.

Then the disciples came to Him and said, Why do You speak to them in parables? 11 And He replied to them, To you it has been given to know the secrets and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given, Matthew 13:10-11.

From a biblical perspective, the son of God used parables to connect with first century citizens. A parable is story structure used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson as told by Jesus in the Gospels. The New Testament details 46 different parables as Jesus tried to explain mysteries and secrets of the kingdom of heaven. My favorite is the Parable of the Sower as Jesus reveals how the environment in which you live influences the person that you become.

Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy, to the assembly (church) of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah): Grace (spiritual blessing and divine favor) to you and [heart] peace. We are ever giving thanks to God for all of you, continually mentioning [you when engaged] in our prayers, Recalling unceasingly before our God and Father your work energized by faith and service motivated by love and unwavering hope in [the return of] our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah). [O] brethren beloved by God, we recognize and know that He has selected (chosen) you;For our [preaching of the] glad tidings (the Gospel) came to you not only in word, but also in [its own inherent] power and in the Holy Spirit and with great conviction and absolute certainty [on our part]. You know what kind of men we proved [ourselves] to be among you for your good, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5.

While writing 13 letters known as epistles, the apostle Paul developed a story structure known as U Centered Writing. Paul regularly starts his letters by getting the attention and gaining the interest of fellow Christians. Once this is accomplished, Paul creates a felt need, a flaw or weakness that believers need to work on. The remainder of his letters are designed to create a sense of urgency so that a commitment to change is conceived. Whether you’re writing a letter, telling a story or working on a screen play, stories continue to speak to human hearts and provide hope or inspiration to make a difference in the life that God has given you.

by Jay Mankus

The Anatomy of Story

Author John Trudy released his first edition of The Anatomy of Story in 2008. One of the goals of this book is to provide 22 Steps on how to become a master storyteller. As an expert in the field of writing screenplays, Trudy attempts to help amateur writers who don’t quite understand this process well enough. Beside the Anatomy of Story, Trudy shares his secrets for writing a compelling script on podcasts as a guest speaker and teaches writing courses across the country.

As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s office; and He said to him, Be My disciple [side with My party and follow Me]. And he rose and followed Him. 10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and [especially wicked] sinners came and sat (reclined) with Him and His disciples, Matthew 9:9-10.

The Bible contains it’s own master story teller. Using a technique known as parables, the New Testament records 42 accounts scattered throughout the 4 gospels. Jesus masters the art of communication with a simple story that relates to common citizens. Instead of speaking down to individuals as the Son of God, Jesus meets people where they are, using parables to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Rather than spoon feed his audience, Jesus uses riddles to force listeners to figure his message out on their own.

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, Why does your Master eat with tax collectors and those [preeminently] sinful? 12 But when Jesus heard it, He replied, Those who are strong and well (healthy) have no need of a physician, but those who are weak and sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy [that is, readiness to help those in trouble] and not sacrifice and sacrificial victims. For I came not to call and invite [to repentance] the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God), but sinners (the erring ones and all those not free from sin), Matthew 9:11-13.

Prior to the days of cable television and the internet, American families sat at their kitchen table every night for dinner. Instead of eating quickly before heading off in your own direction, this time was set aside to share what happened to you during the day. While I didn’t enjoy being forced to sit in the same place for 30 minutes, my mom or dad always shared an interesting story to pass the time. As an introvert, COVID-19 has forced many to live this past year in isolation. Yet, I long for the day when families can recline together without wearing a mask to rediscover the anatomy of story.

by Jay Mankus

Crazy or Enlightened by God?

From 2003 to 2005, Amber Rose Tamblyn starred in the CBS drama series Joan of Arcadia. Amber played Joan Girardi, a sophomore in high school struggling to fit in. The pilot episode introduces Joan while dreaming where she first hears God’s voice as a whisper in the night. The next day God appears to Joan as a human being based upon Joan Osborne’s song “What If God Was One of Us?” This initial meeting sets the format for a typical episode where Joan sees and speaks with God, usually appearing as a different person each time. During this conversation, Joan receives an assignment and performs this task is a round about manner.

Then a fresh division of opinion arose among the Jews because of His saying these things. 20 And many of them said, Jesus has a demon and He is mad (insane—He raves, He rambles). Why do you listen to Him? – John 10:19-20

These encounters make Joan uneasy, unsure if she’s crazy, dreaming or enlightened by God? When Joan regularly leaves her friends to talk to strangers who are God, family and friends begin to get the sense that Joan isn’t all their mentality. In the final episode of season 1, Joan contracts Lyme Disease. After collapsing on the last day of school, doctors believe Joan’s encounters with God were merely hallucinations. Over the summer, Joan is sent to a mental hospital where she meets Judith, as a close friendship develops in season 2. Like many teenagers, when asked to share her special connection with God, Joan changes the topic, never expressing her faith. When you get a chance to share your faith, don’t let these opportunities slip by.

Others argued, These are not the thoughts and the language of one possessed. Can a demon-possessed person open blind eyes? – John 10:20

Telling others that you have a special relationship with God is risky in today’s current climate. Yet, when God put a message upon Jesus’ heart, He regularly shared biblical life lessons. These analogies, parables, and stories threatened many Jewish leaders. Jesus’ teaching caused some to believe that He was either demon possessed or insane. These comments inspired a chapter in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. Lewis asks an opened ended question: “is Jesus a liar, lunatic or Lord?” This question challenged former investigative journalist Lee Strobel who like Lewis was an atheist. Yet, Strobel’s journey ended in a similar manner, writing The Case for Christ. No one wants to be made fun of or teased, but Jesus calls enlightened individuals to speak up, Matthew 10:32-33. Those who stand up for God will be counted but those who deny God will be rejected.

by Jay Mankus

Fleeing an Alka-Seltzer Faith

Alka-Seltzer is an antacid and pain reliever first marketed by the Dr. Miles Medicine Company of Elkhart, Indiana. An Alka Seltzer tablet contains aspirin, sodium bicarbonate, and anhydrous citric acid. When added to hot water, tablets dissolve in 20-30 seconds depending upon the water temperature. Since 1966, this cold medicine has been used to fight colds and flu like symptoms. Just like the disciple Peter denied knowing Jesus in public, the faith of many modern Christians tend to fizzle out after being baptized, disappearing quickly under duress and peer pressure.

So the Jews surrounded Him and began asking Him, How long are You going to keep us in doubt and suspense? If You are really the Christ (the Messiah), tell us so plainly and openly. 25 Jesus answered them, I have told you so, yet you do not believe Me [you do not trust Me and rely on Me]. The very works that I do by the power of My Father and in My Father’s name bear witness concerning Me [they are My credentials and evidence in support of Me], John 10:24-25.

During a first century conversation with Jews, Jesus finds himself surrounded by individuals eager to know if He is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Instead of giving the people what they wanted, Jesus refers back to a parable introduced earlier in chapter 10. Eluding to himself as a shepherd, Jesus points to the fact that sheep know and recognize the voice of their shepherd. Genuine sheep hear, listen and obey the voice of God. Any actions contrary to this is a sign of unbelief.

But you do not believe and trust and rely on Me because you do not belong to My fold [you are no sheep of Mine]. 27 The sheep that are My own hear and are listening to My voice; and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never lose it or perish throughout the ages. [To all eternity they shall never by any means be destroyed.] And no one is able to snatch them out of My hand, John 10:26-28.

To explain this in modern terms, free will give individuals daily options to obey or disobey God’s commands in the Bible. While everyone goes through cycles of high and lows, those who struggle with temptation are likely missing a key ingredient. I accepted Jesus as my Savior in high school, not as Lord. Thus, I was still in control, not willing to yield total control over to God. After living in sin following my first semester of college, the Holy Spirit prompted me to make Jesus the Lord of my life. If your faith appears to be fizzling out, perhaps it’s time you make a similar decision, Romans 10:9-10, to flee an Alka-Seltzer faith.

by Jay Mankus

Denying the Ghost of Christmas Past

In the 1988 film Scrooged, Bill Murray plays a selfish, cynical television executive who is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.  Bitter, disappointed and frustrated, Murray’s character came to the conclusion that Christmas was a fraud.  Far worse than Ebenezer Scrooge, Murray is visited by the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.  These shocking encounters convict Murray’s heart like the wealthy man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  The only difference is that Murray is still alive while the rich man in the story below died.

So the rich man said, ‘Then, father [Abraham], I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may solemnly warn them and witness to them, so that they too will not come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have [the Scriptures given by] Moses and the [writings of the] Prophets; let them listen to them,’ Luke 16:27-29.

Parables are meant to be analogies, hypothetical scenarios to illustrate spiritual truths.  Within this particular story, Jesus details a conversation between Abraham who is in heaven with a desperate rich man pleading his case from hell.  This man asks to be sent back to his family on earth in the form of a ghost, similar to the concept of the ghost of Christmas past.  Despite this man’s concern to save his family from the same eternal fate he is enduring, Abraham vehemently denies this request.  While Abraham references the importance of listening to and studying the words of Old Testament prophets, his reason for saying no is clear.  You must walk by faith, not by sight.

He replied, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent [they will change their old way of thinking and seek God and His righteousness].’ 31 And he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to [the messages of] Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead,’” Luke 16:30-31.

Every Christmas, pastors, priests, reverends and teachers attempt to share a fresh approach to Christmas, coming up with an unique angle or spin.  Of all of the sermons I have heard at Christmas Eve and or Christmas Day services, Abraham’s exchange with this rich man in hell is not one of them.  Human nature makes individuals think, “if I only saw a ghost, speak to the dead or witness a miracle, then I would believe.”  Yet, in reality, you shouldn’t have to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus to believe.  The author of Hebrews references this in Hebrews 6:1-6, supporting Abraham’s excuse for denying a first century visit from the ghost of Christmas past.

by Jay Mankus

The Intrinsically Good and Evil

One day Jesus was disturbed as he observed religious leaders judging other individuals.  Outraged by this display of self-righteousness, Jesus compares unfair judgments to the principle of sowing and reaping.  Warning the Pharisees in the crowd, Jesus explains that the standard by which you judge others will be measured, applied to you in return.  Immediately following this statement, Jesus transitions into a discussion about what is intrinsically good and evil.

For each tree is known and identified by its own fruit. For figs are not picked from thorn bushes, nor is a cluster of grapes picked from a briar bush, Luke 6:44.

Using a parable to prove his point, Jesus refers to humans beings as fruit bearing trees.  Essentially, what Jesus is saying in paraphrased form, “if you want to encapsulate who someone is, pay attention to the fruit which they bear on a daily basis.”  Some will produce excessive fruit, others will have sporadic growth seasons and a few won’t bear anything at all.  As you interact with society, brushing up against, coming in contact with and experiencing what different people have to offer, reputations will be developed and formed either good or bad.

The [intrinsically] good man produces what is good and honorable and moral out of the good treasure [stored] in his heart; and the [intrinsically] evil man produces what is wicked and depraved out of the evil [in his heart]; for his mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart, Luke 6:45.

The climax of Jesus’ teaching comes in the passage above, mouths speak out of the overflow of human hearts.  Thus, if you listen carefully, you can hear for yourself what is intrinsically good or evil.  The next time you listen to a conversation, observe a discussion or watch a report on cable news, your ears should be able to pick up something based upon the content.  Are these words good, honorable and moral?  Or has a bruised and wounded heart spewed depravity, hatred and wickedness?  While you can’t control what others say, you can cry out to Jesus to mend any part of a broken heart.  As this healing process begins, you should begin to recognize subtle changes in your vocabulary.  May the Holy Spirit transform your life to display that which is intrinsically good.

by Jay Mankus

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