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When Religion Drives You Insane

I’ve heard many nightmares of how seminary can radically transform individuals for the good and bad.  Knowledge has a way of puffing up egos, encouraging once humble individuals to question those currently in spiritual leadership positions.  Depending upon the ideology taught at certain institutions, the gullible, naive and ungrounded can be swayed to embrace religion over a relationship with God.  This is just one example of how religion can drive someone insane.

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane,” Acts 26:24.

In the case of Paul from Tarsus, his peers from the synagogue felt betrayed.  After a dramatic transformation on the road to Damascus, Paul’s Jewish friends didn’t recognize him anymore.  This resentment festered causing the chief priest and religious leaders to arrest Paul on false charges.  During his trial in front of newly elected governor Festus and King Agrippa, Paul testifies to his conversion to the Way, rejecting Judaism for a personal relationship with Christ.  Halfway through, Festus came to the conclusion that his new found faith was driving Paul insane.

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable, Acts 26:25.

So who’s right?  Are Christians insane for following an invisible God?  Are traditional religions crazy to holding on to traditions more than a thousand year old?  Or is there a middle ground, where faith and tradition can co-exist?  Matthew 10 sums up what Jesus thought about this topic, as religion can create division even within households.  Thus, while outsiders may call you names, tease or ridicule you, stand firm in the faith til the end.  The next time a friend thinks you’ve lost it, lean on the Holy Spirit to give you the words to make a reasonable defense.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Matthew 10:34.

by Jay Mankus

 

When People Die Before They Reach the ER

Unfortunately, tragedy makes the headlines as well as the front pages of news papers every summer in the form of heat stroke related deaths, infants left in vehicles too long or wandering into the wrong place at the wrong time.  Former NFL player and head coach Herm Edwards tries to mentor rookies each season by proclaiming, “nothing good ever happens after midnight.”  Despite these warnings, curiosity often cause people to die before they reach the Emergency Room.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell, Matthew 10:28.

Addiction is one of many silent killers that can be curtailed by accountability.  In biblical times, communities, families and the local synagogue served as positive peer pressure, providing boundaries to keep morality in and evil out.  While everything is cyclical, apathy, humanism and vanishing absolutes are re-writing how individuals should live.  This loosening of society has perverted freedom, resulting in chaos on the streets of major cities.  According to Jesus, the seed of murder is conceived when a spirit of anger consumes a human heart.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell, Matthew 5:22.

Despite Eve’s sin, Adam’s lack of leadership and a world falling apart at the seams, no one seems to care.  An avalanche of emotions is stoking a fire of hatred, resentment and revenge.  What ever happened to common sense?  Will anyone ever wake up to smell the coffee of a society slipping away from God?  If these warning signs continue to be ignored, doctors will be helpless to act, like a M.A.S.H. unit who receives their patients too late, dead on arrival.  May the  words of a classic song “Stop Children What’s that Sound ” prompt hearts of actions to reverse the trend of a culture slip sliding away from God.

by Jay Mankus

Losing the Battle of Forgiveness

Salah, kapar and nasa are the three most common Hebrew words which express the English expression to forgive.  In the New Testament, aphiemi describes the act of forgiving, to separate blame from the guilty party inspired by sin.  Biblical forgiveness is achieved when an individual acquits, exonerates or pardons someone from an act which cause harm to one or more parties.  Unfortunately, for most churches, forgiving without truly forgetting results in a losing spiritual battle.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you, Colossians 3:13.

This reality hit home as a drove to the first church I served in as a youth pastor.  Every Sunday I passed by a former congregation, a beautiful brick building which had become a liquor store.  Ironic that a building once known as the Lord’s house was now a center for wines and spirits in my community.  Perhaps, a spirit of bitterness, jealousy or resentment is at fault.  A couple may not like the music, others profess their disdain for the preaching and some complain about the lame programing that exists.  Before long, seeds of discord, dissension and factions cause membership to dwindle.  In the end, churches die as the lukewarm hop over to another destination, going along for the ride until their own passion fades away.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith, 2 Timothy 4:7.

As a former elder of a now disbanded church, I hate to see the finality of it all.  Shattered dreams, broken homes and fragile souls try to move on, placing their pain on hold until the healing begins.  While fighting for a lost cause may seem futile, churches can be turned around when forgiveness arrives on the scene.  If only egos could be put on the sidelines, then the love of Jesus can permeate into the lives of churches.  Casting Crowns was right, “If we are the body, what aren’t our hands reaching out in love?”  May this blog create a spark, ignite forgiveness and rejuvenate churches on the verge of division or splitting.  Fight the good fight of faith!

by Jay Mankus

When Your Cries Reach Heaven’s Ears

Sometimes the Lord saves the best for last.  In the longest chapter of the Bible, God unveils a secret about prayer in the final stanza of Psalm 119.  According to this passage, whenever human beings experience disappointment without any logical explanation, people tend to stray from God and His commands.  Before giving up all hope, many pour out their hearts to God, praying that their cries for answers will reach heaven’s ears.

May my cry come before you, LORD; give me understanding according to your word. – Psalm 119:169

One of the reasons I pray is to seek understanding for the trials I have endured.  Although James 1:2-4 warns individuals to expect difficulty in life, the Bible also promises to hear our cries, Psalm 4:1.  Thus, whenever anyone spreads out their hands toward heaven and does not receive any tangible signs of improvement, resentment is a typical reply.  If these days of darkness persist, the disenfranchised will continue to grow, often going beyond the church doors to find answers to life.

May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. – Psalm 119:170

However, for those who follow in the footsteps of the persistent widow, Luke 18:1-8, one day you will see the hand of God at work.  Upon receiving a response from heaven, a sensation of praise will overwhelm your lips.  Perhaps this feeling led David to develop a heart of prayer while tending sheep in the fields, 1 Samuel 16:7.  Although days of answered prayers may be few and far between, promises to bless, heal and protect keep me going, thirsting for more.  May you resolve to keep on praying until your cries reach heaven’s ears, Psalm 119:169-176.

by Jay Mankus

 

Not As We Deserve

After weeks of public scrutiny, the National Football League has decided to change their policy on player conduct in regards to off the field matters.  Recent transgressions from Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy have caused corporate sponsors to begin to end their partnership with certain teams and perhaps the league itself.  However, when the next scandal rears its ugly head, will anyone remember names like O.J. Simpson, Rae Carruth or Aaron Hernandez?

Although the media can be cruel, praising you one day; then running you over the next, did you get what you deserved?  If you’re like Michael Sam, now a member of the Dallas Cowboys practice team, you really can’t do much to hurt the glowing reception you’ve received.  On the other hand, if you’re a Josh Gordon of the world, how many opportunities will you blow before your dream is taken away for good?  Regardless of where you find yourself on this spectrum, one thing is certain, you reap what you sow, Galatians 6:7-8.

Despite this reality, God has thrown a life line down to anyone who has blown it big time, messed up their life or screwed up someone else’s life.  According to Psalm 103:10, God does not treat us as our sins deserve.  While many individual’s will beat themselves up internally with guilt, resentment and shame, the Lord is only a prayer away, waiting with open arms of forgiveness.  May the promise of Psalm 103:11-12 help you overcome any time you fall from grace, as God continues to treat his creations not as we deserve.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

When You’re Rejected by God

Rejections come in various forms like having a credit card declined, being dismissed by an employer or being turned down for a date.  However, whenever prayers go unanswered, problems continue to mount or nothing ever seems to go right, individuals feel rejected by God.  Confused by God’s lack of action and silence, wounded souls struggle to make sense of their current dilemma.

Following their banishment from the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:23, the first family resembled a soap opera more than God’s well pleased creation.  To make matters worse, a sibling rivalry commenced in Genesis 4:3-5.  When big bigger, Cain, had his offering rejected by God, resentment and jealousy flowed toward his younger brother Abel.  As disappointment gave birth to depression, a wicked scheme tempted the mind of Cain.  It’s one thing to be honest with God, yet revenge led Cain to overreact, ending the life of his little brother.

Although the Lord does predestine certain leaders to fulfill the great commission, there are clear indications why God rejected Cain and accepted Abel’s offering.

1) God honors those who give their best, Matthew 5:48.  Genesis 4:3 suggests there was no sense of urgency within Cain to give the Lord his first fruits.  Cain waited until his belly was full and his family had enough food to eat before he got around to it.  Foregoing Matthew 6:33, Cain appeared to trust in his own ability and not God.  Meanwhile, Abel gave to the Lord his first and most precious sheep, believing God would replace these in the near future, Genesis 4:4.

2) Offer your body as a living sacrifice, Romans 12:1.  If everything that is good comes from above, James 1:16-17, when people honor God with their bodies, you get the Lord’s attention like Abel.  On the other hand, its easy to become lukewarm about things in life, picking and choosing when its convenient to serve God.  I guess you can say, Cain’s heart wasn’t into his offering.  Therefore, when you fall into this habit or pattern, its essential that you receive a spiritual heart transplant, Ezekiel 36:26.

3)Be your brother’s keeper by holding others accountable, James 5:19-20.  Cain tried to avoid any responsibility for his brother’s death.  Whether you’re the oldest or the youngest, each believer should set the example for others to follow, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.  Whenever someone does stray off course, its vital to steer wandering souls back toward the narrow path, Matthew 7:13-14.  Thus, the next time you feel rejected by God, reflect upon these 3 indicators so that you won’t regret or overreact to the hand you have been dealt like Cain.

by Jay Mankus

 

The Power of Grace

Grace is a dying word in most cultures as bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness harbors in the hearts of hurt people.  Instead of experiencing the unmerited favor of God, guilt is preventing individuals from accepting this free gift, Romans 5:8.  Meanwhile, the condition of forgiveness introduced by Jesus in Matthew 6:15 isn’t being met by followers, revoking the power of grace upon their lives.

While serving as a youth pastor in Indiana, one student was placed into my life to teach me about grace.  Despite my attempts to reach out to this high school junior, I was her enemy, the adult who took the job of the person who led her to faith, Romans 10:9-10.  On one occasion, her mother approached me, giving me a hug with tears in her eyes, confessing, “I’m sorry my daughter hates you!”  This trial tested me, putting my faith into a spiritual  fire, 1 Peter 1:6-7.  Without this encounter, I might not understand the power of Grace today.

On Sunday, I attended a friend’s church, needing to be showered in God’s grace.  In the middle of singing for 30 minutes, the lyrics struck a cord with my soul.  Usually stoic and reserved, especially the older  I get, the Holy Spirit moved me to tears.  Lifting my hands up toward heaven, I sensed my disappointment, stress and worries being washed away, swept clean by the power of grace.

If you’ve been touched by God, please share your story in the comment section below.

by Jay Mankus

The Envy of Cain

When envy is present within the hearts and minds of individuals, jealousy usually isn’t far off.  Envy and jealousy often feed off of one another breeding the other feeling.  Envy arises deep inside the human soul, aroused by someone else’s material possessions, personality or unique gifts resulting in a spirit of discontent and resentment.  On the other  hand, jealousy is the emotion one experiences when someone thinks they are about to be replaced by the flavor of the month, leading to apprehension and fear.  This is where you find Cain within the pages of Genesis 4.

Cain was the prized baby, the first born boy on planet earth.  As an infant, his mom and dad waited on every cry and whimper.  Like modern parents returning from a hospital, both are clueless, not sure how to handle or respond to this new creature who has entered their life.  As for Cain, every thing was peachy keen until Abel arrived onto the scene.  Cain was now longer the main attraction, forced to share time with his baby brother.  If this wasn’t enough to bear, Cain realized how much harder farming was compared to shepherding, Abel’s occupation.  Then, God had to go and play favorites, rejecting Cain’s weak offering, but extremely pleased by the fat portions brought by Abel, Genesis 4:3-5.  These ingredients conceived the envy of Cain.

Before I studied the definitions of envy and jealousy, I never imagined either of these 2 acts of the sinful nature, Galatians 5:19-21, stirred inside my heart.  However, as I read the numerous definitions and examples of each on the internet, I saw signs of the envy of Cain within me.  Whether you are a coach, teacher or hard working employee, there is always someone quicker, smarter and more appealing than you.  Thus, you need to learn to be content in the areas God has gifted you.  If you don’t, you are giving the devil an open door for the envy of Cain to reside within you, Ephesians 4:25-27.  Therefore, lean on the the grace, forgiveness and mercy of God to purge yourself of any traces of envy or jealousy.

by Jay Mankus

The Brady Bunch Generation

One might say Sherwood Schwartz was a pioneer, conceiving a sitcom for blended families well before society was willing to accept divorce.  Inspired by a 1965 column in the Los Angeles Times, Schwartz developed a vision for a show which took 3 girls and their mother played by Florence Henderson, joining them together with Robert Reed who had 3 boys of his own from a previous marriage.  When you add Alice, a live in maid staring Ann Davis, the Brady Bunch was born.  This suburban family related to average citizens, coping with the same struggles a parent, teenager and sibling face daily.  As shows like Little House on the Prairie became unrealistic, not achievable anymore, the Brady Bunch’s success led to 117 episodes from 1969-1974.

My favorite episode illustrates the battle which exists between brothers, Greg and Peter, who end up drawing a line down the middle of their room, attempting to distinguish who owned what.  Relying on emotions, not wisdom, their joint decision is not well thought out as Greg has complete control of the bathroom, yet only Peter has access to the hallway door.  Unfortunately, some people never mature, participating in ridiculous feuds over animals, children and possessions.  This moral decay continues today as a typical two parent family with one mom and one dad is now a minority, on the verge of becoming obsolete.  The Brady Bunch Generation has placed its stamp on American culture, embracing the imperfections so prevalent within mankind.

Genesis 31:1-2 reveals the beginning of a Brady Bunch like dispute between Laban and Jacob, whose name is later changed to Israel.  This tiff causes Jacob to flee without talking out his differences, like a child trying to run away from home in Genesis 31:17.  Laban pursues Jacob, eager to get things off his chest, Genesis 31:26.  Like a good solider, Jacob quietly waits for his turn to respond, beginning to rumble like a volcano ready to blow, Genesis 31:35-42.  Previously afraid of confrontation, Jacob releases his feelings which had been stored up for over 20 years.  Once both men had spoken their mind, this exchange sets the scene for an unique peace treaty in Genesis 31:43-55.  Instead of using tape to divide their territories, Laban and Jacob decide to use a heap of stones, creating a pillar.  This structure laid the boundary, similar to modern day property lines, agreeing not to intrude on the others’ life anymore.

This episode and biblical account reveal several great life lessons.  First, communication is crucial to maintaining peace with friends, family and neighbors.  Second, expressing your emotions allows you to let go of any grudge or resentment that you may have toward an individual.  Finally, when you bring other witnesses into your dispute, this serves as accountability down the road to prevent you from repeating the same mistake over again.  No one can ever achieve perfection, but if you give God your best, Matthew 5:48, He can make the rest of your days on earth like a story book ending, at least as good as life can get.

by Jay Mankus

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