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The Baptism That Almost Never Happened

To an average person, the mind of God is hard to fathom. Yet even one of Jesus’ disciples; one of three members of his inner circle tried to cancel Jesus’ plan to save the world from sin, Matthew 16:20-23. Three years earlier, the spiritual leader known as John the Baptist attempted to pull off a similar stunt. In the passage below, John tries to talk Jesus out of being baptized by him. John felt unworthy to perform Jesus’ baptism.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. 14 But John [f]protested strenuously, having in mind to prevent Him, saying, It is I who have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me? – Matthew 3:13-14

Human beings have a hard time seeing the finger of God moving, touching, and working behind the scenes. Perhaps half the problem is that human nature makes most people focus on the here and now so that God’s greater good is never seen. Transition is one of those unpleasant experiences that seems unnecessary at the time it occurs, but it opens the door for future events to occur in your life. This is something that John and Peter both failed to recognize.

But Jesus replied to him, [g]Permit it just now; for this is the fitting way for [both of] us to fulfill all righteousness [that is, to [h]perform completely whatever is right]. Then he permitted Him. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, He went up at once out of the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he [John] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him, Matthew 3:15-16.

Despite being a discerning prophet, John needed to be persuaded to baptize Jesus. Based upon the discussion in the passage above, John was finally sold on fulfilling all righteousness. Modern day Christians don’t have the luxury of Jesus talking sense into us. Yet we do have an invisible counselor to usher in God’s will for our lives, John 16:13. The next time the Devil, Ephesians 2:2, seeks to block you from doing what God desires, keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:26, so that God’s will prevails.

by Jay Mankus

God’s Permanent Presence

Before society was concerned about being cancelled or virtue signaling to the woke community, even non-believers talked about God’s permanent presence. In 1990, Bette Midler sang that From a Distance, God is watching us. If this is true, the words of one Old Testament prophet became a reality in the first century, roughly 2000 years ago, Isaiah 7:14.

But as for you, the anointing (the sacred appointment, the unction) which you received from Him abides [[o]permanently] in you; [so] then you have no need that anyone should instruct you. But just as His anointing teaches you concerning everything and is true and is no falsehood, so you must abide in (live in, never depart from) Him [being [p]rooted in Him, knit to Him], just as [His anointing] has taught you [to do], 1 John 2:27.

One of the Jewish traditions that Isaiah was raised to follow was the unction. This is the act of anointing someone with oil or ointment as a religious rite. However, on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, followers of Jesus were anointed by the Holy Spirit. During a conversation with his disciples in John 16, Jesus promised to send a Holy Ghost, an invisible counselor to guide believers following his ascension.

For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [[d]full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue). By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature, 2 Peter 1:3-4.

The greatest advocate of God’s permanent presence is a member of Jesus’ inner circle. According to Peter, the Holy Spirit gives Christians everything that we need for life. The apostle Paul compares the Holy Spirit to a force that you can walk with, Galatians 5:25. Yet, the Holy Spirit is only available to those who believe in Jesus, Acts 2:28. Therefore, if you want to sense God’s permanent presence daily, call upon the name of the Lord, Romans 10:9-11.

by Jay Mankus

Purify Your Heart with Sincere Affection

Sometimes the truth that a friend shares strikes a nerve. Such is the case of one Old Testament prophet who reveals a painful truth in Jeremiah 17:9. When your heart becomes open to the possibility that you’re not as nice as you should be, your soul becomes open to changing for the better. This is the message that Peter has for a teachable spirit: purify your heart with sincere affection.

Since by your obedience to the Truth through the [HolySpirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, [see that you] love one another fervently from a pure heart, 1 Peter 1:22.

Purification usually involves some sort of filtration process. Whether this is accomplished through cleansing, decontaminating or sterilizing the imperfections, purifying anything takes time. According to one of Jesus’ disciples, purifying your heart is based upon your degree of obedience to God’s commands. As the Holy Spirit convicts Christians for any wrongdoing, your heart begins the purification process.

So be subject to God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him], and he will flee from you. Come close to God and He will come close to you. [Recognize that you are] sinners, get your soiled hands clean; [realize that you have been disloyal] wavering individuals with divided interests, and purify your hearts [of your spiritual adultery]. [As you draw near to God] be deeply penitent and grieve, even weep [over your disloyalty]. Let your laughter be turned to grief and your mirth to dejection and heartfelt shame [for your sins], James 4:7-9.

Yet, to achieve sincere affection, Christians must seek the Theological Virtues of hope, faith, and love. According to C.S. Lewis, Cardinal Virtues are available to anyone, but Theological Virtues are only accessible through the power of the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 13:13. Actions and faith must work hand and hand so that hearts will be purified as the fruits of this process develop into sincere affection.

by Jay Mankus

They Questioned It and Were Right

During my first year of college, I attended a “Why Knock Rock Seminar” at a local church. Why some of the theories that were espoused by the various speakers had a degree of merit, to demonize Christians who felt called to reach young people with rock music was moronic. One of these groups considered dangerous by the Puritans of the 1980’s was the Altar Boys. The Altar Boys’ punk rock sound was enhanced by Gut Level lyrics that spoke to my heart.

And her prophets have daubed them over with whitewash, seeing false visions and divining lies to them, saying, Thus says the Lord God—when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have used oppression and extortion and have committed robbery; yes, they have wronged and vexed the poor and needy; yes, they have oppressed the stranger and temporary resident wrongfully, Ezekiel 22:28-29.

While doing some research for my new series Sing A New Song, I stumbled upon the song I Question It. Although the particular sound of this song hasn’t aged well, the lyrics were prophetic. When the church elite was busying condemning and judging those aspects of the youth culture that they didn’t like, the Altar Boys were trying to warn Christians through their Gut Level Music album in 1986. Instead of listening, complacency set in as liberals and progressives quietly worked behind the scenes to take over.

And I sought a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore have I poured out My indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their own way have I repaid [by bringing it] upon their own heads, says the Lord God, Ezekiel 22:30-31.

I guess it’s a little too late for the members of the Altar Boys to exclaim “I told you so!” Yet, the conditions of today remind me of the words of the prophet Ezekiel. God wanted someone to stand in the gap: a leader, a parent or students to defend that which is right and true. Unfortunately, no one rose to this occasion. Nonetheless, I sense a similar call to stand up for the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and for Religious liberties. Will the church sit back and watch from their pews or start reminding their neighbors of America’s heritage of faith? Time is of the essence so stand now or we too will be destroyed.

by Jay Mankus

The Other Side of the Universe

As an aspiring screen writer, I listen to a dozen podcasts each week. My goal is to extract golden nuggets of information so that I can implement these concepts into my own scripts. The more I listen, I find myself on the other side of the universe, possessing a completely different worldview. Instead of recognizing God, many of these experts use similar vocabulary. Rather than blame or credit God, the universe is in control of whatever happens in life from a Hollywood perspective.

It is God Who sits above the circle (the horizon) of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; it is He Who stretches out the heavens like [gauze] curtains and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in, Isaiah 40::22.

One Old Testament prophet disagrees. Isaiah died as a martyr, sawed in two rather than deny his faith. Despite this cruel ending, Isaiah recognized who was in control of the universe. In the passage above, Isaiah alludes to God’s omnipresence. Life isn’t simply a random set of events that plays out in the universe. Rather, Isaiah recognized the words of Jesus’ earthly brother before they were written, James 1:2-4. Trials occur on earth as a form of preparation, leading to maturity as time goes by.

By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible, Hebrews 11:3.

C.S. Lewis gives one of the best explanations of different worldviews in Mere Christianity. Lewis uses Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe. Human nature is a starting point where all human beings can relate to and understand. In the section entitled What Christians Believe, Lewis highlights virtues like prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude that everyone share. However, Theological virtues are limited to Christians via the Holy Spirit. Until someone enters into a relationship with Jesus, Romans 10:9-11, people will remain on the other side of the universe without knowing God.

by Jay Mankus

Exercise Every Kind of Endurance and Patience

The origin of organized exercise can be traced back to Johann Bernard Basedow. Building upon Rousseau’s ideas of the “Natural Human,” Basedow opened the Philanthropinum in Germany in 1774. This center for physical exercise began by offering wrestling, running, riding, fencing, vaulting, and dancing. While writing a first century teenage pastor, the apostle Paul acknowledged the benefits of physical training. Yet, Paul felt that spiritual training provides a greater value for life.

For physical training is of some value (useful for a little), but godliness (spiritual training) is useful and of value in everything and in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also for the life which is to come. This saying is reliable and worthy of complete acceptance by everybody, 1 Timothy 4:8-9.

While runners warm up with stretching, Christians lean on prayer to prepare their hearts and minds for a new day. Just as muscles need to be loosened up prior to jogging, spiritual exercises requires tapping into the Holy Spirit. In a letter to the Church at Galatia, Paul lists a series of spiritual fruits to shoot for, Galatians 5:22-23. Perhaps, the passage below is a direct reference to the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Rather than develop an “Eye of the Tiger” mentality, Paul urges readers to hang in there with endurance and patience.

[We pray] that you may be invigorated and strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory, [to exercise] every kind of endurance and patience (perseverance and forbearance) with joy, Colossians 1:11.

From a human point of view, discipline and hard work will only take you so far. You may be able to beat yourself into submission like Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27. However, over the long haul, individuals need a higher power to invigorate and strengthen their soul. This is the type of spiritual exercise that Paul is talking about. If you’re feeling tired and weary, on the verge of giving up, spiritual exercise provides a spark to persevere. An Old Testament prophet uses the analogy of being lifted up by God so that endurance prevails. Isaiah 40:30-31.

by Jay Mankus

Getting Filled Up on Premium

As gas prices continue to rise nationwide, it’s important to know the different between regular and premium gasoline. While premium gas averages 60 cents more per gallon, fuel with a higher octane rating can stand up to higher compression before it detonates. When you buy cheaper gas, regular gas has a lower octane, increasing the likelihood that detonation happens at the wrong time. Depending upon your vehicle, the gas you choose will influence the engine, mileage, and performance.

Then he said, Go around and borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels—and not a few. And when you come in, shut the door upon you and your sons. Then pour out [the oil you have] into all those vessels, setting aside each one when it is full, 2 Kings 4:3-4.

The Bible refers to a different kind of oil in the passage above. This oil was used for cooking and lighting lamps. Down on her luck, a poor woman sought out Elisha to figure out a way to get out of debt. The widow was running out of options, open to a strange solution provided by this prophet of God. Although her neighbors were probably curious about why she was collecting a bunch of empty jars, this oil kept supernaturally flowing until every container was filled.

So she went from him and shut the door upon herself and her sons, who brought to her the vessels as she poured the oil. When the vessels were all full, she said to her son, Bring me another vessel. And he said to her, There is not a one left. Then the oil stopped multiplying, 2 Kings 4:5-6.

The oil in this Old Testament passage is symbolic of God, not wanting anything to go to waste. Once all the collected containers were filled, the oil ceased. From a New Testament perspective, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. When individuals get filled by the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:4, Christians are elevated to a new level. According to the apostle Paul, when your oil level gets low, it is possible to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:25. Therefore, don’t forget to get filled up on God’s premium Spirit when you’re feeling low.

by Jay Mankus

Fighting for Your Life

An average, 56 million individuals will lose their life in 2021. Worldwide, 150,000 people will pass away today. While 100,000 will die from age related causes, the remaining 50,000 have no warning signs of their last day on earth. Although no one wants to be diagnosed with a life threatened illness, at least these unfortunate souls have the opportunity to fight for their lives.

In those days Hezekiah became deadly ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover, 2 Kings 20:1.

During a visit from an Old Testament prophet, King Hezekiah was informed that the end was near. Isaiah is the first to use the expression “set your house in order.” Like a business executive about to retire, Hezekiah was told to begin preparing for his own death by saying goodbye to family and friends. Instead of surrendering to this illness, Hezekiah poured out his heart to God in prayer.

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, I beseech You, O Lord, [earnestly] remember now how I have walked before You in faithfulness and truth and with a whole heart [entirely devoted to You] and have done what is good in Your sight. And Hezekiah wept bitterly, 2 Kings 20:2-3.

As a former high school Bible teacher, two of my former students succumb to cancer before having a chance to enter the prime of their lives. After wrestling with God in prayer, Hezekiah was one of the lucky ones as the Lord extended his life by another 15 years. However, Hezekiah’s healing was not assured until witnessing his shadow go ten steps backwards. As you read this today, may you follow in the footsteps of the apostle Paul by fighting the good fight, 1 Timothy 6:12, until the Lord takes you home.

by Jay Mankus

Starting Over in 2021

ξεκινώντας από την αρχή is the Greek word for starting over. Meanwhile, the Latin expression for starting over is iterum incipi. When translated literally into English this refers to again, a second time. As 2020 is thankfully ushered out for good, it’s time to hit the reset button. While no one knows for sure how long the Coronavirus will stick around, starting over with a blank canvas gives me hope of a brighter future.

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome, Jeremiah 29:11.

Despite earning a nickname as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah 9:1 and Jeremiah 13:17, there is a glimpse of positive news. In the passage above, the Lord finally gives Jeremiah a message of hope. These future plans includes blessings, dreams and a final outcome worth waiting for. Therefore, if you still haven’t gotten over the worst pandemic in the last century, the Bible provides some encouraging news.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and [selected] young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted; 31 But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired, Isaiah 40:30-31.

Another Old Testament prophet provides an analogy that most adults can relate to. Between the spread of Covid-19, forced closures of businesses and the stress of trying to stay alive, 2020 has worn out countless souls. Thus, as many have lost their energy and joy for life, it’s time to place your faith in God’s hands again. Just as eaglets trusted their parents renew their strength, it’s time to place your faith in God to start over in 2021.

by Jay Mankus

When a Conscience is Awakened

For a GPS to function, it must be connected to a satellite and fully charged by a power source. When one of these two variables is absent, these devices now part of every cell phone won’t operate. Meanwhile, a conscience is built into human beings, designed by God to serve as an internal means to guide souls. The book definition of conscience is a cognitive process that elicits emotion and rational associations based on an individual’s moral philosophy or value system. In order for a conscience to work properly, it has to be cared for, maintained, and fully charged by a sound mind and pure heart.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right, persevering, and steadfast spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit, Psalm 51:10-12.

If you want to know what a conscience sounds like, listen to David’s words above. David’s conscience awoke immediately following being confronted by the prophet Nathan. To avoid any chances of a complete denial, the Lord gave Nathan an analogy, relaying this in a moving story found in 2 Samuel 12:1-7. This old Testament parable drove David to anger and rage, wanting the villain to pay for his wrong behavior. The moment Nathan proclaimed, “you are that man,” David’s conscience was awakened. Struck to the heart with guilt, David ‘s affair with Bathsheba and plot to kill her husband is exposed, laid bare for the world to see.

But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his appearance or at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart, 1 Samuel 16:7.

The one scene from a Hollywood film that depicts a conscience that is awakened comes from Jerry McGuire. Playing a sports agent at the top firm in the nation, Tom Cruise visits one of his clients in the hospital. A professional hockey player who has experienced one too many concussions is hurt again. Instead of looking out for this man’s health, safety and well being, McGuire is focused on getting this NHL defensive stud his next contract. When the father’s son vehemently disagrees with Jerry’s greedy intentions, the screen writers describe this event as Jerry growing a conscience. Yet, this conscience was there the whole time. All a conscience needs is to be reborn and rejuvenated to start leading individuals to do the right thing daily.

by Jay Mankus

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