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The Altar of the Souls of Martyrs

John Foxes’ Book of Martyrs was first published in 1528. While attending Seminary part time back in the late 1990’s, one of my classes studied martyrs not mentioned in the Bible. Men and women of faith suffered horrific deaths during Nero’s persecution of Christians. These tragic deaths intensified in early 300 AD under the oppressive Roman Emperor Diocletian. These individuals will be rewarded by their ultimate sacrifice.

When the Lamb broke open the fifth seal, I saw at the foot of the altar the souls of those whose lives had been sacrificed for [adhering to] the Word of God and for the testimony they had borne, Revelation 6:9.

As John witnessed Jesus break open the fifth seal in the book of Revelation, there was an altar dedicated to the souls of martyrs. At the foot of this altar, the souls of dead Christians who were killed for not compromising their faith began to share their testimonies. While most of these individuals aren’t mentioned in the Hall of Faith found in Hebrews 11, this scene reminds me of the lyrics of the hymn Blessed Assurance, “This is my story, this is my song.”

They cried in a loud voice, O [Sovereign] Lord, holy and true, how long now before You will sit in judgment and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the earth? 11 Then they were each given a [b]long and flowing and festive white robe and told to rest and wait patiently a little while longer, until the number should be complete of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed as they themselves had been, Revelation 6:10-11.

The apostle Paul devotes the opening chapter of his letter to the Church at Galatia to promote sharing your faith. Paul uses a teachable moment to express why Christians should strive to please the Lord and not other people, Galatians 1:9-10. Paul then transitions to three keys parts of any testimony: Galatians 1:11-24. The first step is conveying how you lived prior to entering into a personal relationship with Jesus. This past leads to what event(s) led you to trust Jesus as Lord and conclude with how Jesus has transformed your life. May the altar of the souls of martyrs inspire you to share your own testimony.

by Jay Mankus

From Time to Time

Starting a few years ago, I decided to use a different translation of the Bible each time I study the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation. My most recent study involves the Classic Amplified Bible. This version opened my eyes to the words of one of Jesus’ former disciples. John took great joy whenever a Christian visited with the goal of sharing their faith. Unfortunately, this only occurred from time to time.

In fact, I greatly rejoiced when [some of] the brethren from time to time arrived and spoke [so highly] of the sincerity and fidelity of your life, as indeed you do live in the Truth [the whole Gospel presents], 3 John 1:3.

When something in your life isn’t important or a priority, you only experience this from time to time. From John’s perspective, he watched Jesus present the Gospel every day for three years. Jesus didn’t wait to share God’s love until the disciples reached their appointed destination for the night. Rather, Jesus seized every moment, walking, talking and loving along the way, stopping to perform miracles daily.

I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my [spiritual] children are living their lives in the Truth. Beloved, it is a fine and faithful work that you are doing when you give any service to the [Christian] brethren, and [especially when they are] strangers, 3 John 1:4-5.

John explains in the passage above why Christians should live out God’s Word daily by sharing their faith. When God uses you to comfort or encourage someone in the form of a divine appointment, the joy you experience from this encounter is amazing. Perhaps, this is the what the abundant joy that Jesus promised in John 10:10 feels like. Rather than casually share your faith from time to time, search for daily opportunities to pass on God’s love.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. Episode 89: Two Pennies

Today’s feature song comes from a Christian musical group that formed in Dallas, Texas in 1990. The name of this group is very appropriate for this Easter Season “Between Thieves.” The lyrics of Two Pennies gives Christians another alternative to any homeless individuals that you many come in contact with. While handing a buck or two is easier, sharing your faith with the poor is a golden opportunity.

Let each one [give] as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves (He [b]takes pleasure in, prizes above other things, and is unwilling to abandon or to do without) a cheerful (joyous, “prompt to do it”) giver [whose heart is in his giving], 2 Corinthians 9:7.

Everyone has certain God given gifts that are unique to you. One talent may be talking, another writing as well as the boldness to evangelize. My own two cents is that God has a plan and a place for all of us to serve. Unfortunately, barriers, obstacles, and time prevent many from giving to the world what they need which is love in action. May the melody and lyrics of Two Pennies inspire you to love others in 2022.

by Jay Mankus

Divine Inspiration

Divine inspiration comes from a supernatural force. Once this spirit of enlightenment falls upon an individual, people often experience a creative desire that is not normal. Reports of divine inspiration have occurred for thousands of years, typically in the context of a religious encounter. In the passage below, the prophet Samuel received eyewitness accounts of King Saul under divine inspiration. This led many to believe that Saul possessed the gift of prophecy.

And when [Saul] had turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart, and all these signs came to pass that day. 10 When they came to the hill [Gibeah], behold, a band of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he spoke under divine inspiration among them.11 And when all who knew Saul before saw that he spoke by inspiration among the [schooled] prophets, the people said one to another, What has come over [him, who is nobody but] the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets? – 1 Samuel 10:9-11

In the first century, Jesus gathered together a group of 12 men to be his primary disciples. Within this group, Jesus selected James, John, and Peter to become part of his inner circle. On a few occasions, usually during a special healing, only these 3 men were allowed to enter a room with Jesus. If anyone understood divine inspiration, Peter had a front row seat, watching and witnessing miracles performed by Jesus every day.

[Yet] first [you must] understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of any personal or private or special interpretation (loosening, solving). 21 For no prophecy ever originated because some man willed it [to do so—it never came by human impulse], but men spoke from God who were borne along (moved and impelled) by the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:20-21.

During my senior year of college, I attended a night of prayer. After this ended at 11pm, I was filled with an overwhelming spirit to share my faith with others students. In the next hour, a friend and I walked throughout campus, talking to complete strangers. My friend Mike watched in awe as the Holy Spirit spoke through me. An hour later, I didn’t remember anything I said that night. The only logical explanation for this one evening is divine inspiration.

by Jay Mankus

Afraid to Tell Her of Your Love

An inciting incident in a screen play is a story that upsets the status quo and begins the story’s movement forward. According to author and story guru John Truby, narrative drive is the forward propulsion of a story. When communicated in the right manner, this serves as a page turner, captivating audiences as viewers want to find out what will happen next. The inciting incident in my own life was the death of a good friend from high school. Since I was afraid to tell her of God’s love while she was battling cancer, her passing created a spirit of conviction within my heart for this to never happen again.

You have heard of my earlier career and former manner of life in the Jewish religion (Judaism), how I persecuted and abused the church of God furiously and extensively, and [with fanatical zeal did my best] to make havoc of it and destroy it. 14 And [you have heard how] I outstripped many of the men of my own generation among the people of my race in [my advancement in study and observance of the laws of] Judaism, so extremely enthusiastic and zealous I was for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when He, Who had chosen and set me apart [even] before I was born and had called me by His grace (His undeserved favor and blessing), saw fit and was pleased, Galatians 1:13-15.

In a letter to the Church at Galatia, the apostle Paul writes about his previous life before entering a relationship with Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-11. The first chapter of Galatians serves as a blue print for telling your own personal story about how you came to faith. This outline begins by sharing how you acted, behaved and lived your life prior to making your spiritual decision. The second part is simply when and how you were introduced to God. The final step of a testimony is explaining how your life has been changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. For some of you, this process may still be in it’s infancy. Yet, as time passes, light will expose traces of darkness that still exists within you.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. Do not blush or be ashamed then, to testify to and for our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for His sake, but [with me] take your share of the suffering [to which the preaching] of the Gospel [may expose you, and do it] in the power of God, 2 Peter 1:7-8.

To ensure that I was not afraid anymore, I sought out accountability groups, Bible Studies and Christian groups on campus to deepen my faith. I set up a duel internship at a Bible Fellowship Church in Ohio to spark my passion for youth ministry. I spent a decade serving as a Bible Teacher at a Christian High School and the last nine years sharing my journey with God by writing daily devotionals at Express Yourself 4 Him. I’d be lying if I haven’t fallen short in the area of fear. Yet, faith is a process of rising and falling, talking steps back and marching forward. My end goal is to no longer be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus so that when an opportunity to share my faith arises. When fear disappears, you will be prepared to give an answer for the faith that you now have, 1 Peter 3:15-16, this Easter Season.

by Jay Mankus

The Long Road Back to God

One of my favorite pastors in college shared an analogy that has stuck with me through life. Referring to the power of sin over human beings, this man believes sin will take you further than you ever intended to go. Meanwhile, sin will remain with you longer than you ever expected to stay. Finally, sin will alter right and wrong, blinding minds with an expanding layer of gray. When you’re too far gone, deceived and spit out by sin, the long road back to God is a humbling journey.

Then three years later, I did go up to Jerusalem to become [personally] acquainted with Cephas (Peter), and remained with him for fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any of the other apostles (the special messengers of Christ) except James the brother of our Lord. 20 Now [note carefully what I am telling you, for it is the truth], I write this as if I were standing before the bar of God; I do not lie, Galatians 1:18-20.

In the passage above, Paul writes out his personal testimony as if standing in front of the Church at Galatia. As a former zealous Pharisee who oversaw the death of Stephen, mere words wasn’t enough to persuade first century apostles of his conversion. Rather, Paul spent 3 years at home, growing, maturing and sharing his faith wherever he went. Despite turning over a new lease on life, many apostles and disciples were skeptical, believing this was a ploy to infiltrate and persecute church leaders. If it wasn’t for Barnabas, who pleaded on Paul’s behalf, the road back to God would have led to a dead end.

Then I went into the districts (countries, regions) of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And so far I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea (the country surrounding Jerusalem), Galatians 1:21-22.

Nearly 2000 years later, everyone has their own prodigal story, Luke 15, disappointing God at one point or another. Depending upon how far you have strayed from the Lord, the long road back won’t be easy. Beside confession and reconciliation, there will be growing pains as you attempt to break away from addictive behaviors and bad habits. Purging yourself from these earthly pleasures may involve some sort of intervention from a Christian brother or sister. Yet, the sooner you make a u-turn back toward God, the quicker the healing process starts. May this Christmas prompt your heart to start the long road back to God.

by Jay Mankus

Educating Yourself Out of the Supernatural Realm

As a former Bible teacher, I learned that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reach everyone. Yet, this didn’t stop me from using a variety of teaching methods to relate to a broad audience. Like a farmer preparing their soil for another season, all I could do was sow spiritual seeds, hoping and praying for these to take root. However, even if you reach someone in high school, it doesn’t mean that individuals won’t become prodigals, drifting, leaving or venturing away from God for an extended period.

As for myself, brethren, when I came to you, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony and evidence or mystery and secret of God [concerning what He has done through Christ for the salvation of men] in lofty words of eloquence or human philosophy and wisdom; 1 Corinthians 2:1.

Unfortunately, after attending a semester or year of higher education, many students develop a superiority complex. According to Healthline.com, a superiority complex is a behavior that suggests a person believes they’re somehow superior to others. In the context of college, the more knowledge individuals absorb, this can go to their heads like first century philosophers. Upon visiting the Church at Corinth, the apostle Paul was disappointed by many believers who put their faith in logic and science rather than God.

And we are setting these truths forth in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the [Holy] Spirit, combining and interpreting spiritual truths with spiritual language [to those who possess the Holy Spirit]. 14 But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated, 1 Corinthians 2:13-14.

Based upon the passage above, it’s possible to educate yourself out of the supernatural realm. Every year, I receive word of former students who were convinced to reject God at some point before graduating from college. Like the movie God is Not Dead, sharing your faith with atheist professors can ruin any chances of getting a good grade. Maintaining your faith throughout your college experience is a difficult task. Although I wavered from time to time, I’m a firm believer in supernatural powers available via the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:3-4. May you overcome the temptations of the world’s wisdom to cling on to the truth that miracles still happen.

by Jay Mankus

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

In 1982, the Clash released their album Combat Rock. While the song Should I Stay or Should I Go never cracked the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 Charts at this time, a commercial a decade later struck a cord with music lovers. Following a Levi Jeans ad campaign featuring this song, Should I Stay or Should I Go was re-released in 1991. Subsequently, this song reached number one on the United Kingdom’s Singles Chart. This success led Rolling Stones Magazine to rate this Clash hit as one of the top 500 Greatest Songs of all time in 2004.

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were going from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, Tarry here, I pray you, for the Lord has sent me to Bethel. But Elisha replied, As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you. So they went down to Bethel. The prophets’ sons who were at Bethel came to Elisha and said, Do you know that the Lord will take your master away from you today? He said, Yes, I know it; hold your peace, 2 Kings 2:1-3.

In the Old Testament, one man was chosen to be the successor of Elijah. Prior to the mantle from being passed on, God tests Elisha to see if he is up to the challenge. Beginning in 2 Kings 2, Elijah visits four cities, asking Elisha to stay behind. Eager to spend ever last minute with Elijah, Elisha refuses to take no for an answer. Each time Elisha replies, “As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” One of the reasons for this resolve is that Elisha’s request for a double portion of Elijah was dependent of witnessing Elijah being taken up to heaven. Thus, Elisha is determined to go wherever God leads Elijah.

Elijah said to him, Tarry here, I pray you, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan. But he said, As the Lord lives and as your soul lives, I will not leave you. And the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood [to watch] afar off; and the two of them stood by the Jordan. And Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up and struck the waters, and they divided this way and that, so that the two of them went over on dry ground. And when they had gone over, Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you. And Elisha said, I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me, 2 Kings 2:6-9.

Upon being freed from a legion of demons, a man begs Jesus to become one of his disciples, Mark 5:17-20. However, Jesus convinced this man to go home to his family and share how God has healed him. To those with broken, dysfunctional or unloving families, this call is difficult. The question you have to ask yourself, “should I stay where I am in a comfortable spot in life or leave my comfort zone to share my faith with others?” Although you still may be stuck at home due to the Coronavirus, when America reopens for good, God is looking for the next Elisha, eager to receive a double portion of the Holy Spirit by going where God leaves.

by Jay Mankus

What Happened to Being Honest?

On May 25th, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota when white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes. This one act of hatred has ignited a series of protests and riots over the past 2 weeks. As Americans still stuck under state induced quarantines watched helplessly from home, anger was unleashed upon buildings, businesses and vacant malls across the country. As citizens began to express their concerns and opinions on social media, the Cancel Culture movement has risen up to condemn, punish and silence those who deviate from mainstream progressive ideology.

But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully, 1 Timothy 3:15.

As each day passes, the backlash against honest tweets continues. The first victim of this backlash was Sacramento Kings Play by Play announcer Grant Napear. Napear was fired by his radio station and forced to resign from his 22 year position with the Kings all because he replied to a tweet “All Lives Matter.” The next was New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees who made a statement about honoring the flag in an interview during Memorial Day Weekend. While Brees wasn’t cut by the Saints, he was shamed into apologizing for expressing his heart felt beliefs about patriotism. James Bennet of the New York Times was forced to resign after agreeing to print an Opinion Editorial written by conservative Senator Tom Cotton.

[And see to it that] your conscience is entirely clear (unimpaired), so that, when you are falsely accused as evildoers, those who threaten you abusively and revile your right behavior in Christ may come to be ashamed [of slandering your good lives]. 17 For [it is] better to suffer [unjustly] for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than to suffer [justly] for doing wrong, 1 Peter 3:16-17.

One of Jesus’ disciples made an interesting observation in the first century. After publicly denying knowing Jesus, Peter is restored in John 21:15-19. This conversation seems to have empowered Peter to become a spiritual rock, eager to share his faith after Jesus rose from the dead. However, Peter adds a disclaimer, when you do share your faith, you may suffer. Although Peter doesn’t specify what kind of suffering, it appears to be socially. In other words, you won’t be the most popular person, but when you’re criticized for doing the right thing, it’s worth the backlash. I don’t know how long this trend will continue, but when you do express your beliefs, do so with a gentle, courteous and respectful spirit.

by Jay Mankus

What Would the Bible Say about You?

At the end of his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul thanks those who worked quietly behind the scenes. Without these men and women, Paul’s ministry journeys would not have been possible or successful. Beginning with a deaconess and woman who opened her home as a congregational meeting place, Paul wanted to ensure that their contributions were not minimized or overlooked. Unlike the gospels where woman and children are excluded from the overall count of individuals present, Paul places women first on his list.

Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, That you may receive her in the Lord [with a Christian welcome], as saints (God’s people) ought to receive one another. And help her in whatever matter she may require assistance from you, for she has been a helper of many including myself [shielding us from suffering]. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, Who risked their lives [endangering their very necks] for my life. To them not only I but also all the churches among the Gentiles give thanks, Romans 16:1-4.

In another letter to the church at Galatia, Paul breaks down his entire life into three stages. Galatians 1:11-24 serves as an outline for sharing your faith by detailing your life before knowing Jesus, your conversion experience and transformation since making this decision. While every faith story contains peaks and valleys, portions of your testimony will connect with or touch other souls. One of Jesus’ disciples urges first century Christians to be prepared, always ready to provide the reason for the hope that you have in God, 1 Peter 3:15-16.

[Remember me] also to the church [that meets] in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was a firstfruit (first convert) to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked so hard among you. Remember me to Andronicus and Junias, my tribal kinsmen and once my fellow prisoners. They are men held in high esteem among the apostles, who also were in Christ before I was. Remember me to Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, that one tried and approved in Christ (the Messiah). Remember me to those who belong to the household of Aristobulus, Romans 16:5-10.

As I turn our attention toward today, I’m curious about what modern writers might say. Would you receive a shout out like Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila or be out-shined by other believers? As you go to work, reside in a neighborhood and let your guard down at home, what do people notice? According to my children, I drive too fast, I’m impatient and too opinionated. Are your daily actions full of light or do moments of darkness blur the love of Jesus inside of you? The book of Acts ends abruptly. Some scholars suggest that either the final chapter was never fully completed or simply missing. When judgement day arrives, what will God say about you? Only time will tell so make the most of the days that the Lord gives you.

by Jay Mankus

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