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Separating Religion from Christianity

My grandmother Joana often greeted me with a particular phrase. After hugging and kissing me on the cheek, she would look me in the eye and joyfully exclaim, “you’re such a good little religious boy.” At the time, I never really knew how to respond to this comment. Yet, I didn’t want to let her down so I tried to stay out of trouble as much as possible. Religion is what others want from you like first century Pharisees who stressed following God’s law.

Then some of the Pharisees said, This Man [Jesus] is not from God, because He does not observe the Sabbath. But others said, How can a man who is a sinner (a bad man) do such signs and miracles? So there was a difference of opinion among them. 17 Accordingly they said to the blind man again, What do you say about Him, seeing that He opened your eyes? And he said, He is [He must be] a prophet! – John 9:16-17

The Mishnah and Gemara are two components of the Talmud. The Mishnah and Gemara are man made expectations written by Jewish religious leaders focused on religiously following God’s commands, decrees and precepts. The main problem with these two books is that they stress religious exercises rather than entering into and developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Christianity on the other hand is finding out what God can do for you via faith in Christ.

And He said to them, Is it lawful and right on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to take it? But they kept silence. And He glanced around at them with vexation and anger, grieved at the hardening of their hearts, and said to the man, Hold out your hand. He held it out, and his hand was [completely] restored. Then the Pharisees went out and immediately held a consultation with the Herodians against Him, how they might [devise some means to] put Him to death, Mark 3:4-6.

One of the best examples in the Bible that separates religion from Christianity is in the passage above. While the Pharisees are focused on keeping the Sabbath, Jesus is searching for a way to share God’s love and power on this sacred day. As these teachers of the law are focused on a zealous observance, Jesus wants to heal a man with a shriveled hand. Following a frustrating conversation with these religious hypocrites, Jesus performs a miracle. While Jesus honors his heavenly Father on the Sabbath, Pharisees are distracted by religion and end up spending more than a year trying to find a way to kill Jesus. This distinction is clear and a good reason to focus on a relationship with Jesus rather than merely a religious exercise.

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

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

 

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