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Wisdom, Virtue and Faith

After graduating college, I was fortunate enough to travel through out the mid-west.  During this time, I visited a couple of mega churches that still exist today.  I spent time at Parkside Church in Cleveland pastored by Alistair Begg, the voice of the Truth for Life radio ministry.  I attended Community Church on Wednesday nights, listening to John Ortberg at Willow Creek Community Church west of Chicago.  While participating in a youth ministry trade school called Tentmakers, I visited the Church of the Open Door just outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  As I reflect upon these three places of worship, my time there reminds me of the passage below.

So the church throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace [without persecution], being built up [in wisdom, virtue, and faith]; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it continued to grow [in numbers], Acts 9:31.

According to Luke, following Saul’s conversation, the first century church enjoyed a period of peace without persecution.  Churches in Judea, Galilee and Samaria shared three common traits: wisdom, virtue and faith.  Like any spiritual awakening, the presence of the Holy Spirit comes forth in unique ways.  Luke highlights two aspects of this spiritual growth as believers walked in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit.  As wisdom, virtue and faith continued to be built up, people entered into personal relationships with Jesus daily, baptized and becoming active members of these church communities.

But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature together with its passions and appetites.  25 If we [claim to] live by the [Holy] Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit [with personal integrity, godly character, and moral courage—our conduct empowered by the Holy Spirit]. 26 We must not become conceited, challenging or provoking one another, envying one another, Galatians 5:22-26.

In the passage above, the apostle Paul provide a blue print for modern believers to follow.  Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.  Virtue involves adopting behavior which results in high moral standards.  Meanwhile, faith is complete trust or confidence in God.  When you join these three qualities together, keeping in step with the Holy Spirit is achievable.  As a disclaimer for perfectionist who read this, no one will be able to hear, listen and obey God’s Spirit every time.  Yet, the more you keep in step with God, the easiest it will become to do so in the future.  Wherever you may be in your faith journey, emulating the first century church will place you one step closer to keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

Enduring a Spiritual Identity Crisis

If you enjoy or follow sports, success is defined by winning and losing.  Despite how many victories a team earns over the course of a season, if a championship is not won, fans lose hope.  In the meantime, coaches, players and stars who endure humiliating loses in the playoffs are labeled as chokers, overrated and trashed throughout social media.  Those who seek to self identify themselves using these standards will experience disappointment, failure and shame unless titles are won.  Thus, its not uncommon for people to go through some sort of identity crisis.

Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant, 1 Corinthians 13:4.

Non-athletes tend to use a different set of standards.  Depending upon your career choice, degrees earned and annual salary, value is placed upon your life.  Intelligence, social status and wisdom add or subtract to how the world views your importance.  Anyone called into the ministry, social work or has a low paying jobs are looked down upon by the upper class.  If you let this bother you, then you may be tempted to adopt worldly standards.  The longer you allow yourself to be defined by rich or poor, wins or losses and success or failure, the more likely you will go through a spiritual identity crisis.

It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening], 1 Corinthians 13:5-7.

When I moved to Chicago after getting married, living among millionaire neighbors, I tried to fit in initially.  Unfortunately, the best job I could find was making thirty thousand dollars a year, chump change to everyone around me.  Attending Willow Creek Community Church on Wednesday nights helped alter my perspective.  As I began to hear, read and meditate upon God’s standards in the Bible, my soul was comforted by the fact God keeps no records of wrong.  Therefore, if you ever feel like your life doesn’t measure up to the world’s standards, use biblical principals to overcome any spiritual identity crisis that you may endure.

by Jay Mankus


All is Not Lost

Classic movies tend to provide quotable lines which become part of pop culture.  Although some get more attention, one that comes to mind often goes unnoticed.  In Animal House, Kevin Bacon play Chip Diller who plays a character similar to a ROTC college student.  During a parade high-jacked by Delta Tau Chi who were recently kicked out of school, Chip tries to maintain a panicking crowd.  As people begin to run down the sidewalk, Diller cries out, “all is well, remain calm.”  Unfortunately, Chip goes trampled as his words got drown out by fear.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! – Psalm 37:7

If you turn on cable news or talk radio, not much has changed.  It’s almost as if networks seek to scare people, trying to out do competitors.  This ambulance chasing mentality will continue until the public stop listening, watching and get news in some other manner.  In fact, the times I tune out the world and other outside distractions, I feel great and tend to hear God’s calling much clearer.  Therefore, all is not lost, especially when you slow down to be still before the Lord.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him, Psalm 62:5.

When I lived in Chicago back in the mid 1990’s, I attend Willow Creek Community Church, just down the road from our apartment.  Pastor Bill Hybels spoke about the importance of finding a quiet place each summer to spend time with God.  The Psalmist above provides a similar message.  Despite any silence you might experience, waiting for God’s presence either through prayer or reading the Bible sparks spiritual growth.  Sure, everyone has their days, weeks and months in the dark.  Yet, in the stillness of the night, the Holy Spirit still speaks truth to convince individuals that all is not lost.

by Jay Mankus


Genuine Spiritual Growth

There is a fine line between learning and teaching.  Sometimes a speaker can be entertaining without conveying any true substance.  Others may communicate a wealth of knowledge, yet do so in a dry and boring manner.  Based upon biblical accounts, genuine spiritual growth occurs when the Holy Spirit moves individuals to preach about the resurrection of Jesus.

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this, Acts 3:15.

Today, church growth is inflated as crowds flock to the most popular worship center until something more flashy, hip or trendy comes along.  Thus, as one congregation takes on the unhappy from another church, the numbers are like a shadow game, staying the same despite the appearance of growth.  Under pressure to perform, the leaders may compromise, lower their standards or water down their message to keep their critics happy.

But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand, Acts 4:4.

Although there are several good books and resources on the subject of church growth, history reveals 3 essential ingredients which inspired individuals to embrace faith.  First, a commitment to prayer church wide sets the stage for spiritual revival, Acts 2:42.  Second, accountability and fellowship produces intimate relationships, encouraging individuals to make Christianity a lifestyle.  Finally, teaching must be consistent, based upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  When a body of believers embraces and practices these principles, the next Willow Creek Community Church will be born.

by Jay Mankus

Is the Cross an Idol?

For the first half of my life, I always attended denominations where the cross was the center piece of the worship center and service.  As a catholic through my teenage years, the stations of the cross served as magnificent stain glass windows, stretching from one side of the building to the other.  These images were a weekly reminder of the Passion Week, Jesus’ final week on earth leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.  As I began to ponder the meaning of the cross, Michael W. Smith came out with the popular hit, Cross of Gold, adding another perspective to my thought process.

However, when I reached my twenties, I began to visit several congregations who took Exodus 20:4 literally.  The second of the 10 commandments, the Lord makes a distinction between the first, having no other god and second command, creating or establishing objects of worship that replace God.  In place of a cross, musicians, the pulpit and speakers communicating the Word of God were the focal point of worship.  Making a transition to a church which did not have a cross hanging on the back wall behind the altar was definitely an adjustment.

Since my wife and I spent the first 18 months of our marriage living a few miles from Willow Creek, located in South Barrington, Illinois, I embraced this journey to discover if the cross is an idol.  Experiencing Community, a mid week service for believers, I was blessed to gather with thousands of other Christians.  The service was like a mini-concert with 30 minutes of singing, an infomercial transition to the pastor’s message, usually by John Ortberg with Bill Hybels filling in to cast a vision for the future of the church.  This experience taught me you don’t have to wear to cross share your faith.  While the cross may be a reminder, the condition of your heart is what God is truly concerned with, Luke 6:45.

In my thirties, I faced another theological dilemma as a High School Bible teacher and coach.  Does a Christian school have to possess a cross within their logo?  As a former golf professional with 3 years of experience in apparel, I worked with a seamstress to create a logo for our new golf uniforms.  The final proof was a red paw print of a lion.  Whenever I traveled, the logo was a conversational piece, often confused with several colleges providing an opportunity to correct their assumption and share about my school.  Since the cross offends people or makes others feel uncomfortable, I felt excluding the cross was the right decision until a new athletic director placed a cross inside the paw on all team uniforms.

In closing, I think the cross can be an idol, especially for those who attempt to profit off of it.  However, for me, the cross is similar to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  I believe the cross is a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice, sin offering and victory over death, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.  Like the lyrics within Michael W. Smith’s song, “the cross means a whole lot more to me.”  May you test everything I have said, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 and make your on conclusion based upon Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:12, figuring things out on your own.  Enjoy the journey!

by Jay Mankus

Look to Him, Not to Us

When you are young, its easy to take for granted the places you visit and family vacations you experience.  As an adult, I am learning to appreciate each special opportunity the Lord grants me, one day at a time.  This morning I awoke early, before the crack of dawn, reminiscing about some of the greatest worship moments I have ever encountered.

Singing One Bread, One Body prior to communion at my first Walk to Emmaus weekend still gives me goosebumps.  The Community gatherings at Willow Creek in Chicago I attended every Wednesday night for a year combined immaculate worship with the teaching of John Ortberg.  The rock concert at The Church of the Open Door in Minnesota during my youth ministry trade school in the Twin Cities gave me an idea of the intensity one must bring to fully worship God.  However, this past weekend while visiting Vineyard Christian Fellowship on Appleton Road in Landenburg, Pennsylvania, I felt as if I was in the presence of the most high.

Psalm 100:1 was the inspiration behind the song Shout to the Lord.  The following verse, Psalm 100:2 calls people to make a joyful noise.  However, there is a temptation for worship leaders to think, “look at me, don’t I have a great voice?”  As a karaoke enthusiast, I spent several summer evenings in college hanging out with friends at a local night club, often singing 4 songs prior to leaving.  When you were good, the crowd went crazy following your last line.  If you weren’t, like me, I felt like a professional golfer receiving a subtle clap of applause.  My high point of Karaoke came at the 1995 Canadian P.G.A. Tour Qualifying School on Vancouver Island hosted by Morningstar Golf Club.

After a poor opening round, shooting in the 80’s, I went to a local sports bar in Nanaimo to drown my sorrows.  Since most singers were distracted by the NHL playoffs, plastered on a dozen televisions, volunteers for Karaoke were slim.  Instead of drinking, I used singing as a vehicle for healing.  To my surprise, I nailed Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon, actually hitting every note on cue.  As I handed my microphone off, the place erupted.  Thinking the Canucks, Vancouver’s professional hockey team, had just scored a goal, I turned to the nearest set to see what I just missed, trying to catch a replay.  To my amazement, the audience was cheering for me, praising me for my performance.

The message God placed on my heart over and over this morning is “Look to Him, not to us!”  Since I haven’t had much success singing, the temptation to steal credit from God isn’t there.  However, there are other areas, venues in which I have stolen the limelight from the Lord.  David reminds us in Psalm 16:2 that apart from God we can do nothing.  Therefore, whether you are leading worship for your church, fulfilling the duties of your occupation or fanning into flame your spiritual gift, look to Jesus for strength, 2 Corinthians 12:9.  By demonstrating biblical principle, other  people will start looking to Him, not to us, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

by Jay Mankus

Inside the Heart of God

As a child, I had a flawed view of God.  May be it was because I was raised in a strict Roman Catholic home or due to the fact I was afraid of being struck with a yard stick by nuns when I couldn’t recite the Our Father or Hail Mary?  Either way, these experiences led me to develop an Old Testament perspective of God, one of judgment and wrath.  Like C.S. Lewis’ opening paragraph of Book 3 in Mere Christianity, I felt as if God was waiting to punish me each time I sinned.  This sense that God was going to strike me with lightning every time I made a bad decision blinded me from seeing inside the heart of God.

Thankfully, God allowed me to study under some of the greatest Bible teachers in the country to help dissolve these false assumptions.  Pastors like Alistar Begg of Truth for Life in Ohio, Bill Hybels and Lee Strobel at Willow Creek in Chicago and Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church at several college retreats laid a solid foundation which I have been able to build upon since getting married.  On Friday night, while listening to Christian music for 3 hours, God gave me a brief glimpse into the heart of God.

Since I have a tendency to get impatient with people, especially non-believers, God reminded me of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus spent 3 years serving others, reaching out to the needy and re-educating the disciples to prepare them for life after his ascension.  The only people Jesus ever got angry at were religious leaders, teachers of the law, his own disciples at times, those who didn’t welcome his own disciples in Matthew 10 and anyone who tried to turn the House of God into a den of robbers.  Jesus knew that most people are blinded by Satan in their minds, 2 Corinthians 4:4, unable to grasp the gospel like the parable of the weeds, Matthew 13:24-30.

When you begin to discern the spiritual elements behind a person’s actions, Ephesians 6:12, you are able to overlook their sin to love and pray for people.  Knowing the heart of God is one thing, carrying out God’s love is entirely different.  This is why the apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  If you have tried to love, then you know how hard it is to do, day in and day out.  However, if you follow the blue print in Colossians 3:12-17, you just might be able to display the heart of God to those people you cross paths with daily.  The next time you become impatient like me, remember Jesus’ perspective in Luke 19:42 by having compassion on sinners like a shepherd reaching out to his lost sheep!

by Jay Mankus

A Wedding Day Prayer

Seventeen years ago today, I vowed to marry Leanne Marie Wagner.  Since Leanne comes from a big family, our wedding was planned around her families every other year Thanksgiving family reunion in Illinois.  Despite both of us serving in youth ministry leading up to our engagement, Pastor Shawk would not agree to marry us unless we partook in 9 months of pre-marriage counseling.  St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois didn’t mess around, taking marriage seriously.

Prior to our wedding day, I was only in charge of one thing, the music.  While our DJ from Indiana had most of his equipment stolen a few weeks before the reception, God provided enough music to last the entire reception.  To make his life easier, I created a mix of all the songs for special occasions.  At the wedding, our good friend Matt Shepherdson, worship leader for Axis, a Gen X ministry of Willow Creek Community Church at the time sang one of 2 solos, Perfect Love by David and the Giants.  The other solo was sung by my best friend in youth ministry at that time, Phil McMurry singing All the Darkness by Steve Wiggins, the lead singer for Big Tent Revival.  Since Leanne and I both enjoy Christmas music, we decided to conclude our wedding with Joy to the World.

Before the wedding, God impressed upon me a wedding day prayer that was printed on the inside of our wedding bulletin.  Since I had already seen some divorces from friends from high school, I wanted to make sure that our vows lasted forever.  Below is this prayer.

When the high emotions of our wedding are over and the thrill of the honeymoon is gone, all that remains in the will of two people in the Lord and hard work.  With time, each of our imperfections will rise to the surface, showing themselves daily.  There will be failed expectations, broken promises and disappointment in our hearts.  Even when two people are in love, marriage can fail.  However, there is a perfect love, a love which never fails nor disappoints.  This love is found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Leanne and I begin to recognize our own imperfections, we must look to Jesus for help.  We can try to change, yet only Jesus can transform our imperfections.  Therefore, we rely on Christ for our source of strength.  For His LOVE is perfecting our weaknesses so that we may learn how to love one another the way God intended for us in the Bible.  This is perfect love!

by Jay Mankus

p.s. – I want to thank Leanne for enduring with me all these years.  Both of us have experienced hardships over the past few years, hanging on to the Lord through these storms!  As Steven Curtis Chapman sings, I will go there with go!  For always and forever!

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