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Tag Archives: Worship

A Faith That Stands the Test of Time

I visited a church last Sunday to meet up with a couple I hadn’t seen for a while.  Upon entering the foyer, I recognized the greeters from Red Lion where I taught for a decade.  As the music began to play at the traditional service, I felt like I was transported back to the 1970’s.  I hadn’t heard or sung several of these hymns since I was young.  Despite this odd encounter, I witnessed a faith within members of the congregation that has stood the test of time.

In the morning, as they were passing by, the disciples saw that the fig tree had withered away from the roots up. 21 And remembering, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi (Master), look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered!” – Mark 11:20-21

This faith was conceived during the first century from a motley crew of men who followed an impressive Jewish Rabbi.  One of these disciples connected the dots quickly, amazed at the power Jesus possessed.  One day Jesus cursed an unproductive fig tree and the next day it withered.  As more and more miracles were seen daily, Peter was transformed from someone who denied Jesus publicly into a martyr willing to die for his faith.

Jesus replied, “Have faith in God [constantly]. 23 I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea!’ and does not doubt in his heart [in God’s unlimited power], but believes that what he says is going to take place, it will be done for him [in accordance with God’s will], Mark 11:22-23.

Faith in Christ is like the merging of belief and confidence.  When these two forces join, the words mentioned above become reality as souls tap into God’s unlimited power.  This process is hard to explain. but when you see individuals praying, singing and worshipping with such joy, faith shines through.  While older Christians may cling to traditional hymns, inspired hearts often result in a faith that stands the test of time.

by Jay Mankus

 

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The Day Christians Didn’t Want Church to End

From the age of 6 to 16, my parents started to vacation in the state of Maine.  After renting a small cottage on Thompson Lake for a few years, a retired couple invited my family to stay in their A-Frame and Lodge.  Subsequently, Maine became like a second home, spending several weeks there each August.  While my birthday parties were small, I went fishing, golfing or running every day.  Eventually, my parents found a church in Oxford, about a fifteen minute drive.  To my pleasant surprise, this church ran like a clock, ending in 39 minutes every Sunday.  As a teenager eager to fish or play golf, this priest kept my attention, always short and sweet.

When the congregation of the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and the devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, talking to them were urging them to continue in the grace of God, Acts 13:43.

During one of their missionary journeys, Paul and Barnabas experienced the exact opposite reaction.  While preaching to a crowded synagogue in the region of Antioch in Pisidia, the audience in attendance did not work this service to end.  After being dismissed, several Jews and converts to Judaism begged Paul and Barnabas to keep teaching.  These souls were spiritually hungry, eager to learn more about the grace of God.  This desire reminds me of a portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals two key priorities.

But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also, Matthew 6:33.

Spiritual hunger isn’t natural, but when individuals take time to pray, read the Bible or worship God, the Holy Spirit alters human priorities toward spiritual desires.  Although I can’t recall ever wanting a church service to keep going, there are other moments in time that I didn’t want to end.  Spiritual retreats, certain vacations and my Tentmaker Leadership Training were so life altering that I wanted to stay.  Anytime you have to go back to reality is hard, especially if you are not happy with where you are in life.  Nonetheless, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you may find yourself like the service in Acts 13:43, not wanting church to end.

by Jay Mankus

The Company of Believers

They were continually and faithfully devoting themselves to the instruction of the apostles, and to fellowship, to eating meals together and to prayers, Acts 2:42.

The basic definition for a company is a number of individuals gathered together for a particular purpose. The name of each company is designed to send a message to the general public to explain their purpose for existing. During the first century, a doctor sums up a new religious movement in Acts 2:42-47. The passage serves as a blue print, a mission statement of their core principles. Luke narrows in on the apostles teaching, daily fellowship and prayer.

Now the company of believers was of one heart and soul, and not one [of them] claimed that anything belonging to him was [exclusively] his own, but everything was common property and for the use of all. 33 And with great ability and power the apostles were continuously testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace [God’s remarkable lovingkindness and favor and goodwill] rested richly upon them all, Acts 4:32-33.

Two chapters later this company of believers became a well oiled machine. Peter and John inspired by the Holy Spirit urged new converts to become part of this body, of one heart and soul. Instead of focusing on what religion can do for you, first century Christians treated each member of their congregation like family. This mentality eliminated poverty as wealthy members sold land or property to take care of whatever financial emergencies that came up or occurred daily.

At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders (attesting miracles) were continually taking place among the people. And by common consent they all met together [at the temple] in [the covered porch called] Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest [of the people, the non-believers] dared to associate with them; however, the people were holding them in high esteem and were speaking highly of them, Acts 5:12-13.

In the beginning of chapter 5, a married couple devised a plan to infiltrate this company of believers. Apparently, this act of kindness was motived by a desire to be recognized, seeking personal praise rather than humbly give. The Holy Spirit enabled Peter to expose Ananias’ plot, verbally rebuking this imposter. When Ananias laid money at the apostles’ feet from a piece of property sold, this couple agreed to withhold some money. However, they told everyone this was all the money from their sale. After Ananias and Sapphira both died of heart attacks, blamed on lying to God, fear gripped this entire community. This unfortunate event scared away other imposters, half-hearted people as only the true company of believers gathered at Solomon’s Colonnade to worship the Lord.

by Jay Mankus

No Substitute Will Do

As a former teacher, I despised planning for my days off, putting together lesson plans for a substitute.  While this replacement for a class, day or week tries their best to follow the material provided, students will do all they can to battle for a movie day or study hall.  When I returned back to the classroom, I was usually disappointed by the lack of progress that was made.  Although there are several excellent full time subs, some individuals are impossible to replace.

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed, Acts 14:23.

As an adult, I struggle to focus when I attend a church service and the senior pastor is off or out of town.  Maybe once or twice the guest speaker is just as good, but usually there is a big drop off.  When worship leaders are absent or the A team is away playing for another service, there is usually a noticeable difference.  Whenever superior talent is replaced by an alternate or reserve, these fill ins are put into a no win situation.  If surprisingly good, regulars might feel threatened.  When someone fails miserably, you will likely lose this volunteer, to avoid future embarrassment.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone, Hebrews 2:9.

These illustrations prove that no substitute will do for certain scenarios.  For example, attending church from an off campus sight or virtually on an electronic device is a growing trend.  When pastors or worship teams aren’t available, newly planted churches can participate by watching from a large screen.  If you are not careful, it’s easy to withdraw, staying home to listen to sermons and worship.  I must confess that I have fallen prey to this trap.  I rationalize my actions by listening to two to three sermons each Sunday.  Yet, when it comes to being part of a local congregation, no substitute will do.  God designed the body of Christ around imitate relationships.  Thus. getting involved means going to church, fellowshipping with others and making yourself vulnerable to God.

by Jay Mankus

Having a Foot on Both Sides of the Fence

The term “on the fence” became a popular expression beginning in 1828.  The original context was applied by Carl Schurz, insisting on political independence, rather than appeal to everyone by sitting on both sides of an issue.  Not much has changed in the last 2 centuries as politicians have perfected the art of straddling hot button topics with one foot on either side of an argument.  In an attempt to dodge what individuals really believe, vague comments seek to win the approval of as many voters as possible.

To understand a proverb and a figure [of speech] or an enigma with its interpretation, And the words of the wise and their riddles [that require reflection].  The [reverent] fear of the Lord [that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome] is the beginning and the preeminent part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence]; But arrogant fools despise [skillful and godly] wisdom and instruction and self-discipline, Proverbs 1:6-7.

From a spiritual perspective, the fence represents biblical principles.  On one side of this divider is the Bible designed to keep evil out by instilling commands, decrees and precepts from God.  This land is based upon a higher calling, to use abilities, gifts and talents to glorify God.  The opposite side consists of assumptions, elementary theories and worldly traditions.  This region encourages self gratification, indulgence and promotion.  These areas are polar opposites unless you want to fit in like a chameleon.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception [pseudo-intellectual babble], according to the tradition [and musings] of mere men, following the elementary principles of this world, rather than following [the truth—the teachings of] Christ, Colossians 2:8.

The book of Proverbs is designed to shed light on this issue.  As an earthly father looking back on his life, King Solomon attempts to bestow wisdom upon one of his sons.  Like any worried parent, Solomon sees the evil within the world that gradually bewitches, deceives and poisons the minds of teenagers.  Thus, Solomon wrestles to pen the exact words to keep his children on the right side of this invisible fence.  May the fear of the Lord serve as a guiding light to ensure that your own offspring follows the narrow path detailed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:13-14.

by Jay Mankus

Lowering the Bar or Extending God’s Grace?

As a former Catholic, you can tell a lot about the direction of a church based it’s leadership.  Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, is now calling for priests to forgive any woman who has terminated a pregnancy.  During a recent interview on cable news, a member of a local archdiocese summarized this theological change.  In the past, female Catholics who had an abortion were excommunicated from the church, viewing this act of killing an innocent life.  Today, Pope Francis wants to focus on love and forgiveness by extending grace to those who have fallen short of God’s glory.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me,” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

When I heard excerpts of this interview, I wasn’t sure what to think.  However, now that I have had time to digest this new stance, there are two possible explanations.  First, the church is lowering the bar by altering the expectations of what it means to be a modern day Christian.  Just as public education has changed the standards for a passing grade, clergy is now more accepting.  As godliness diminishes within society it’s hard to find willing servants of Jesus.  Thus, many churches are being forced to overlook past transgressions to fill half empty buildings and worship services.

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace, Romans 11:6.

The other logical explanation is a shift from an Old Testament view of God’s wrath and judgment toward a New Testament approach based upon the love of Jesus.  This theological position points to the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  God is already working in the lives of the righteous according to Matthew 9:9-13.  It’s the rebellious, lost and those wandering in the dark who need help.  Instead of emphasizing church growth, pastors have become more evangelistic to reach out to a generation of people who have not grown up in the church.  Depending upon your theological beliefs, you may lean toward one of these two positions.  Nonetheless, the church is suppose to be the hands and feet of Christ, like a beacon of light piercing into the darkness of a spiritually dead and dying world.

by Jay Mankus

My Grand Father’s Rocking Chair

Prior to the breakdown of traditional families in America, my parents generation were committed to maintaining relationships with their extended family.  Despite living four hours away, I visited grand parents on each side of my family 3-4 times per year.  I didn’t need ancestry.com to know who my relatives were.  Rather, I grew up sitting around a large kitchen table listening to stories for a minimum of 30 minutes per meal.  My earliest recollections of my mom’s father, a resident of Hershey, Pennsylvania was sitting on his lap eating chocolate kisses.  While this chair rocked, it is considered a glider, green leather upholstery with stained wooden arm rests.  As I grew up, Grandpa Kautz and I developed a special bond, the love for golf.  After retiring, my grandfather became a starter at Hershey Country Club, able to play golf for free after work.  Prior to his death, my wife Leanne and I were able to play 18 holes with him on this course.  Although none of us played well, I still cherish the memories of this day.  Following his death, my grandfather left me 2 possessions, his golf clubs and his rocking chair/glider.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, Psalm 119:105.

Last spring, my wife and I traveled down to Tampa, Florida to clear out her father’s condo.  Jim Wagner was an avid golfer who visited this place a few times each winter to avoid harsh Chicago winters.  After 25 years of vacations, the condo was sold following Jim’s death in 2017.  It’s amazing how many possessions you can accumulate and fit into a two bedroom condo over a quarter of a century.  Sorting through each closet was emotional for my wife, a 3 day chore that resulted in several piles: donations, keep and trash.  One of the items that was headed for the dumpster was a tall lamp made out of driftwood.  At first glance, I agreed to throw this out.  However, this piece of furniture grew on me, especially with the brightness, illuminating one side of the master bedroom.  Thus, I couldn’t part with this light, driving it back to Delaware.  Prior to this trip, my grandfather’s chair was collecting dust in the corner of my bedroom.  Due to a lack of light, I wasn’t able to see so I kept finding another place to read.  As strange as it may be, it seems that this glider was waiting for my driftwood lamp to make an unusual partnership.  Now, a day doesn’t go by without turning on this lamp  before sitting down to read, write or watch television.

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left [the house], and went out to a secluded place, and was praying there, Mark 1:35.

Jesus made a practice of finding a secluded place to spend time with his heavenly father each day.  The passage above doesn’t provide a specific location like a desert, mountainside or the wilderness.  On another occasion, Jesus encourages an audience to go find an empty room, close the door behind you before praying.  Prayer, study and worship isn’t meant to be public act to bring attention to yourself.  Rather, God wants individuals to locate an intimate setting so that there is nothing to distract you.  As for me, my grandfather’s glider and driftwood lamp has become like an inner sanctuary.  As I open up the Bible, study these pages and pour my heart out to God in prayer, I connect with God.  To a certain extent, this chair has become my Cave of Abdullah, 1 Samuel 22.  This place in my house now serves as a refuge, where I can retreat from the troubles and worries of life.  While I could always do better, become more committed and focused on the Lord, I continue to withdraw each day as God waits in eager expectation for me to turn on my lamp and recline in this chair.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

This chair has become an

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