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A Case Study in Religion vs. Relationships

Religion is an interest that a pursuer ascribes to as their supreme importance. This pursuit results in a particular system of faith as individuals believe in and worship a personal God or gods. Meanwhile, relationships are the way in which two or more people are connected and behave toward each other. Relationships can be traced back to a common alliance, bond, or connection based upon shared values. Religion tends to focus on teetotalism, a rigid following of a clearly defined set of rules. Depending upon your own personal desire, relationships can be kept at an arms length, drawn closer, or become intimate.

For the whole Law [concerning human relationships] is complied with in the one precept, You shall love your neighbor as [you do] yourself, Galatians 5:14.

This case study begins with a first century sect referred to as the Judaizers. These Jewish converts to Christianity did not want to abandon their Old Testament heritage. Instead of focusing on their newly formed relationship with Jesus, the Judaizers overemphasized a strict adherence to Jewish customs. The leaders of this group convinced Gentile members of the Church in Galatia to become circumcised. Instead of following the apostles teaching in Romans 10:9-10, the Judaizers claimed that if you really wanted to be saved, “you need to to adopt Jewish customs and practices found in the Torah.”

But if you bite and devour one another [in partisan strife], be careful that you [and your whole fellowship] are not consumed by one another, Galatians 5:15.

The opposite side of this study is a woman who took relationships to the extreme. Unable to find love in normal relationships, Mary turned to prostitution, selling her body to unfulfilled men. Despite the money Mary made, the void in her heart remained. Instead of developing a physical attraction toward Jesus, a spiritual hunger was conceived. Eager to discover meaning in life, Mary becomes a follower of Jesus, trying to reconcile all the poor decisions of her past. Based upon the actions taken in John 12:3, Mary was closely listening to Jesus’ teaching. Perhaps a sign of contrition, Mary takes an expensive bottle of perform and anoints Jesus’ feet.

But I say, walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh (of human nature without God), Galatians 5:16.

The passage above offers a solution to souls wrestling with religion verses relationships. While religion provides a sense of direction, relationships offer freewill to choose your level of commitment. According to the apostle Paul, there is an internal tug of war going on within your mind daily. Instead of feeling forced to go to church or behave in a certain manner, walk and live habitually in the Holy Spirit. As Christians begin to develop a permanent meaningful lasting relationship with Jesus, you will want to go to church, pray and read the Bible. When you embrace the freedom Jesus offers, faith replaces the need for religion. Thus, choose the abundant life Jesus promises by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

I Don’t Believe What You Believe

After writing for a couple of hours, I began channel surfing to pass some time. Thirty seconds later, I stumbled upon the early stages of Footloose. As a former teacher, the idea of a senior boy standing up for his beliefs appeals to me. One of my favorite scenes from this film occurs later on when a rebellious preacher’s daughter has a heart to heart talk with her father. Lori Singer plays Ariel who opens up about a belief system which differs her dad, Reverend Shaw played by John Lithgow.

Do not let your hearts be troubled (distressed, agitated). You believe in and adhere to and trust in and rely on God; believe in and adhere to and trust in and rely also on Me, John 14:1.

When Singer shares that “I don’t believe what you believe,” I am reminded of a former student. Jennifer was an atheist forced to attend a Christian school by her parents. What made this situation worse, her parents turned out to be hypocrites, following the motto ” do as I say, not as I do.” Initially, there was tension between Jennifer and I, often leading to heated debates. However, as time passed, I accepted Jennifer for where she was spiritually, sharing the love of Jesus whenever I could.

Jesus said to him, Because you have seen Me, Thomas, do you now believe (trust, have faith)? Blessed and happy and to be envied are those who have never seen Me and yet have believed and adhered to and trusted and relied on Me, John 20:29.

In this day and age, politics and religion are two of the most divisive topics in America. If you don’t hold or share a similar view of the media in these areas, expect criticism. Anyone who dares to think differently, get’s out of line or speaks out will be labeled as controversial, dangerous and unsafe. It’s too bad that most adults can’t come to their senses by being willing to accept what others believe. Perhaps, the words of Jesus above may permeate hearts so that love will lead to accepting what others believe until faith is conceived.

by Jay Mankus

What It Means to be One Nation Under God

Since October media reports has followed caravans of people from Latin America, hoping for a better life.  Depending upon your choice of cable news networks, reporters covering this story have attempted to define who these people really are.  As the masses have reached the border seeking asylum, politics have divided Americans.  Those who don’t want borders have invoked religion, accusing opponents of being anti-Christian, failing to love these individuals like Jesus.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world, James 1:27.

Anyone who picks and choses what they want to believe from the Bible while disregarding other parts is known as syncretism.  This practice blends cultures, religions and schools of thought to appease, relate to and unite a large diverse audience.  Unfortunately, when politicians use syncretism it’s often masked with Saul Alinsky tactics from Rules for Radicals.  Instead of using the Bible in its proper context, political talking points often seize opportunities like the caravan to condemn and criticize anyone who dares to disagree.  If you watch any nightly news, politics is a vessel of division.  What America needs is to go back to its roots.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? – 1 John 3:17

The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States was composed by Captain George Thatcher Balch. Balch was a Union Army Officer during the Civil War and later became a teacher of patriotism in New York City schools.  The most recent alteration of its wording came on Flag Day in 1954, when the words “under God” were added.  When my father’s family fled Lithuania during the Soviet Union’s invasion of the Baltic States, he came to America to start over living with a host family.  While a large number of Lithuanians migrated to Binghamton, New York, these immigrants eventually became citizens.  The goal wasn’t to make America Lithuanian.  Rather, it was to become one nation, united by a common faith in God, to carry on their former nation’s heritage united under one flag.  This is what it means to live as one nation under God.

by Jay Mankus

When Religion is Too Much Work

Within any religion, there is a set of beliefs, doctrines and rules that appeal to certain individuals.  You have to weigh the good with the bad as no perfect church exists.  Thus, denominations offer a wide range of options for families to select from before joining a church.  However, if your connection with God is based upon a religion rather than a relationship, some have come to the conclusion that religion is too much work.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless, James 1:26.

As someone who was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church,  I understand the amount of energy a religion based faith requires.  I memorized the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, partook in my first communion, spent six years taking religion classes in CCD and completed my confirmation by taking ownership of my faith.  Fortunately, I was introduced to a Methodist youth group during my sophomore year in high school.  While the church services were similar in some ways, there was a climate of genuine love that was passed on to everyone, even strangers like me.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ, Galatians 1:10.

In the passage above, the apostle Paul writes about his struggle between letting go of his zeal for Judaism and his new relationship with Christ.  When you follow a rigid set of rules, there is a tendency to seek the approval of others.  Yet, when anyone makes a decision to devote their life to Jesus, the religious may resent you.  Meanwhile, others reject you from deviating from the defined path within your church doctrine.  If you want to be free from this rigid course, a line from the Shack provides the answer.  During a conversation the main character Mack is talking with Jesus about stereotypes.  Jesus replies, “religion is too much work.  God doesn’t want slaves; He wants you to be part of his family.”

by Jay Mankus

The Shifting of Moral Authority

In my early years, if I didn’t know a question, I would ask my mother.  If she wasn’t sure, I was directed to ask my father at the dinner table.  As a chemical engineer, my dad could answer most earthly related questions.  Yet, for any type of spiritual related question I was referred to my CCD teacher and then to one of the priests.  This was the line of moral authority I was accustom to as a child.  In the last quarter century, the shifting of morality reveals a new chain of command.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person,” Mark 7:20-23.

The spread of Progressivism has moved authority away from the church and toward elite members of the media.  This shift began by demonizing religion.  This daily attack attempted to convince Americans that Bible believing individuals are bigots, homophobes, sexists and racists.  Early on, people regarded this kind of speech as foolish and in-effective.  Yet, the chipping away of traditional values continued until these accusations began to stick.  Once ridiculous judgements are now embraced by many without much argument.  Anyone who does try to challenge this political agenda is regularly shut down, shamed or silenced by the mainstream media.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law, Romans 13:8-10.

Morality is concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.  Although the Bible clearly uses light and darkness to illustrate right from wrong, the concept of absolutes is fading away.  Thus, the ability to use biblical truths in a debate is weakened by a new belief system based upon political correctness.  These talking points are replacing the Bible as the source for moral clarity.  Unless a third Great Awakening occurs within America soon, the shifting of moral authority will remain controlled by a liberal media seeking to fundamentally transform this country.  May God help is all!

by Jay Mankus

The Fatherless

You can find out a lot about someone based upon their action, behavior and content of spoken/written words.  While James is often considered the earthly brother of Jesus, few people realize he spent many years without a father.  Beginning in the second chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus’ father Joseph is not mentioned.  While there are many theories to explain Joseph’s absence, most scholars believe Joseph died several years before Jesus began his earthly ministry.  Thus, its assumed by the author John, Joseph is dead leaving James fatherless.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless, James 1:26.

Anyone who is blessed with having godly influences along the way in life tends to possess key insight.  Like the brothers of Joseph in the Old Testament who thought he was crazy, James had similar thoughts about Jesus.  Based upon the words chosen above, James doubted his brother prior to his resurrection.  Although he doesn’t specify, James likely joked about, made fun of or used sarcasm upon hearing Jesus’ boisterous claims.  Conviction inspired James to state religion is worthless without keeping a tight reign on your tongue.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world, James 1:27.

Beside helping the poor, James gives believers 2 areas where people should express their faith.  Likely thinking about his mother Mary, supporting widows is a worthy cause.  Meanwhile, orphans abandoned by their families or left homeless due to tragedy is just as needy.  Perhaps, James experienced times in life when he needed a father, but Joseph was long gone.  Though you may not know an orphan, that doesn’t mean you can’t find someone younger to mentor.  Desperate souls are longing for a friend to guide them through life.  Yet, without the helping hands of Christ’s servants in action, the lonely will remain feeling fatherless.

by Jay Mankus

 

When Loose Lips Sink Relationships

One of Billy Joel’s most profound songs Honesty debuted on the airways in 1979.  Part of the 1978 album 52nd Street, the chorus of this ballad suggests honesty is such a lonely word.  Perhaps, Billy Joel was on to something, prophetic, sharing a glimpse of what the future would hold.  Before gun or fist fights, human beings often talked out their differences, no matter how heated a conversation got.  Unfortunately, in this age of Facebook, texting and Twitter, loose lips expressed on social media can sink relationships.

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! – Psalm 141:3

Depending upon your personality, you will either seek confrontation or run away.  Texting has emboldened some former cowards by avoiding face to face encounters.  Yet, what is posted, typed or shared can create a wedge between friends.  Politics, religion and worldviews are factors that tend to divide neighborhoods.  When opinions are openly expressed on these topics, loose lips sink relationships.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear, Ephesians 4:29.

The apostle Paul provides a solution to those who have fractured relationships due to careless words.  Sure, all human beings are imperfect, prone to moments of weakness where the choice of language is inappropriate.  In view of this, the more positive you remain, the less likely you will offend friends and strangers.  Faking this will prove to be a waste of time so its essentially to be genuine and honest.  While no one will ever be 100% encouraging all the time, this is the goal to restore formerly loose lips to repair relationships.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

The Heroes Journey

In 1949, the concept of the Heroes Journey was introduced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  While this narrative pattern commonly appears in films, this outline can also be found in mythology, psychology and religion.  Campbell’s outline involves 12 stages which takes a character from the ordinary world to the special world and back.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things, Hebrews 13:8.

The reason why people watch the same movies year after year is that the heroes journey enables individuals to identify with certain actors and actresses.  As fictional characters reveal their flaws, imperfections and weaknesses, people can relate to similar trials in their own life.  Subsequently, deep down inside viewers root for their favorites to reach to top of the mountain after facing adversity.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness, Romans 12:6-8.

For someone who struggled with stuttering the first 20 years of my life, I always knew what I wanted to say, but rarely expressed what was in my heart and mind.  As an amateur screen writer, the Heroes Journey provides a valuable resource to make my aspirations come true.  However, before I proceed, I must study these 12 stages like trying to ace a test.  Once I fully grasp the Heroes Journey, I can begin to craft films that may one day end up on your favorites list.  Until then, I need to keep plugging away with an unyielding resolve to make my dreams come true.

by Jay Mankus

 

Monday Morning Atheist

An atheist is defined as anyone who lacks belief or denies the existence of a God or gods.  Unfortunately, as another weekend flies by the anguish of starting a new week of work weighs heavy on restless souls.  Thus, when the average American awakes on Monday morning, not many people feel close to or seek God to find the strength to carry on.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ, Romans 10:17.

In his book entitled Monday Morning Atheist, Doug Spada encourages readers to switch God on as Monday morning arrives.  When Christianity becomes a religion, the emphasis is placed on Saturday or Sunday as the day of worship.  Thus, God can be limited to your churches doors if you embrace this mindset.  Faith is designed to be a relationship that lasts 7 days, not something that you pick up whenever you feel like it.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed, Mark 1:35.

Jesus sets the example for those who tend to be distracted by others or stressed by the upcoming schedule you have to meet.  While his disciples are swayed by human demands, Jesus took the first moments of each day to spend with his heavenly father.  Therefore, don’t allow worry to lead you to become a Monday morning atheist.  Rather, slow down, be still before the Lord and let the Holy Spirit influence the steps you take 7 days a week.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

Get Rid of It

As a child, there were always a couple of things I dreaded.  Whether it was cleaning my room, doing homework or eating vegetables, my parents nagged me into obedience.  However, unless you are married or have a significant other, the older you get, the less you will hear people say, “get rid of it.”

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech, 1 Peter 2:1.

This was not the case in the first century.  As a growing number of Gentiles came to faith in Christ, apostles began to share a common message.  Prior to any exposure to religion, most individuals follow in the ways of their ancestors or parents.  Yet, entering into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is like being reborn.  Therefore, drastic changes to your life must be made if you want to experience spiritual fruit.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves, Galatians 5:16.

Peter talks about purging yourself from the impurities of life.  Meanwhile, the apostle Paul provides more specific instructions, using the Holy Spirit as a guide for life.  Although any type of change is difficult, obedience to these two passages will result in future blessings.  Thus, whether you like it or not, parents are usually right, so get rid of those things which drag you down while there is still time.

by Jay Mankus

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