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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

When People Expect More From God

Human nature has a way of making people feel more important than they actually are.  Whether you are talking about self-confidence, egos or pride, these traits can blind you from reality.  While Facebook uses terms like status as a way to express yourself, Jesus relied on stories to insure that first century citizens did not misconstrue God’s nature.

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius,” Matthew 20:9-10.

In the parable of the Workers in the Field, Jesus reveals a reality about heaven.  Just because you have been a faithful follower for months, years or decades does not mean your reward will be greater than those who came to faith later in life.  Rather, eternal life is what God promises to those who trust in the Lord.  Sure, the Bible does mention crowns bestowed upon those who faithfully serve God while on earth, but this should be like icing on a cake.

When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day,’ Matthew 20:11-12.

Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of equating earthly terms with eternity.  Thus, individuals are unable to comprehend the true nature of God.  Subsequently, people grumble like the passage above, disappointed when their expectations for God are no met.  Several of the thirty plus parables recorded in the Bible were spoken to realign human misconceptions with an accurate perception of heaven.  The next time you expect more from God, take some time to read the parables of Jesus so you won’t set yourself up for disappointment in the future.

by Jay Mankus

Nobody is Listening

Every once in a while people are blinded by pride.  This overconfidence within the minds of individuals results in losing touch with reality.  Subsequently, as someone wanders off on a tangent, the audience initially listening quickly tunes out.

Making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; Proverbs 2:2.

There is nothing worse as a teacher than to be so consumed with what you are saying that you fail to recognize no one is listening.  Despite what you thought to be a flawless lesson plan has turned into a snoozer as blank stares and sleeping students force you to figure out what went wrong.  Although it may be humbling, sometimes you have to be open to an honest assessment from students.  While some comments may be inspired from impure motives, you will find blunt answers that reveal why nobody is listening.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,’ Revelation 2:7.

After sharing a parable, Jesus often used the saying, “let him who has ears hear.”  This spoke to the stubbornness within human hearts.  If you think you are right, then you become oblivious to those who possess an opposing point of view.  Many who heard the powerful illustrations of Jesus often left turning a deaf ear, continuing on the current path they were on.  Therefore, if you want to know the truth why nobody is listening, you have to be open to change as the Holy Spirit reveals the next step, Galatians 5:25, to take in life.

by Jay Mankus

 

When You Can’t Figure Out Life On Your Own

Before Samuel Morse invented the telegraph and the International Code that bears his name, creative people have always found ways to secretly communicate.  In the first century, Jesus spoke in parables to convey nuggets of truth.  These interesting stories illustrate important facts about life.  However, these allegories are meant to make people think, pondering the hidden meaning within each parable.  This style of communication often dumbfounded Jesus’ own disciples, seeking private meetings to make sure they correctly interpreted and understood what Jesus was trying to say.  Unfortunately, when you can’t figure out life on your own, Jesus isn’t around anymore to ask in person.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” Matthew 9:12-13.

After healing a paralyzed man in his home town, Jesus shares the passage above.  The first part of this verse makes sense, the sick need a doctor as the healthy have either learned to self medicate or don’t have a life threatening condition that requires immediate attention.  The second comment requires further thought, Jesus desires mercy, not sacrifice.  Since Jesus is likely addressing the Pharisees who witnessed this miracle, sacrifice can be seen as a form of teetotalism.  Following a set of rules perfectly will always result in failure, disappointment or frustration.  Realizing the limitations of the human body, Jesus urges individuals to offer mercy to all, even for those who don’t deserve it.  While this may not be exactly what Jesus means, it’s a good place to start.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Hebrews 4:16.

The author of Hebrews builds upon desiring mercy.  Without mercy, you can’t comprehend grace.  Thus, when sinners are forgiven, especially those who deserve punishment, the human mind struggles to fathom this concept.  Meanwhile, those who go and learn what Jesus means are able to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.  However, when you can’t figure life out on your own, Jesus promised to leave behind a counselor, John 16:13.  This invisible presence will guide you through periods of darkness.  Sometimes you might think God’s Spirit has left you, but it’s likely the Devil trying to convince you otherwise.  Press on and don’t give up as the Holy Spirit is waiting to help you figure out the mysteries in life.

by Jay Mankus

 

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