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Tag Archives: Worship

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

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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

Tasteless

Shortly after I got married, I began to play disc golf regularly.  During a round at Brandywine Creek State Park, my friend Dave and I threw a couple of discs into high grass.  Prior to the rise in Lyme Disease cases, checking for ticks never entered my mind.  Oddly enough, each of us contracted this debilitating condition.  While on vacation in Montana, my skin revealed the classic bullet, an obvious sign of Lyme Disease.  Unfortunately, Dave’s condition went undiagnosed for months.  Although Dave eventually recovered, he permanently lost his sense of taste.

“Therefore, salt is good; but if salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? – Luke 14:34

A first century doctor refers to a spiritual condition in the passage above.  Jesus uses the analogy of expired salt to illustrate this point.  Tasteless salt is similar to a Christian who does not practice the principles of the Bible.  According to Jesus, disciples should add spiritual flavor to the lives of outsiders, those unfamiliar with the concept of Christianity.  When believers blend into the world like chameleons, Jesus refers to these individuals as tasteless.

It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear and heed My words,” Luke 14:35.

Sometimes the truth hurts, especially when you are called out by a co-worker, friend or mentor.  In this case, unsalted Christians are useless, like trash needing to be thrown away.  When joking around with my sons, my video game skills are often described as trash.  Since I know this to be true, rarely practicing, I can laugh along with my children.  However, when Jesus calls lukewarm believers tasteless and trash, this is no laughing matter.  If this blog finds you struggling and unproductive in your faith, may the Holy Spirit inspire you to refuel by studying the Bible daily, praying and seeking to worship God seven days a week.

by Jay Mankus

What Have I Been Doing?

The older that I get, each year seems to be a carbon copy of the last one.  I start off strong, eating healthy, exercising and spending regular time with God in January.  When spring arrives, I usually let some things slide, struggling with my diet and working out.  By the start of summer, my life resembles a house that hasn’t been cleaned for months.  As I was singing a worship song on Sunday, a spirit of conviction overwhelmed my soul.  Like a still small voice, the Holy Spirit asked, “what have you been doing the past few years?”

I was once alive without [knowledge of] the Law; but when the commandment came [and I understood its meaning], sin became alive and I died [since the Law sentenced me to death], Romans 7:9.

In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil, a news reporter from Pittsburgh on assignment.  During his trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Murray get’s stuck in a blizzard, forced to stay another day.  Unfortunately, Murray is caught in a time gap, reliving Groundhog Day over and over again.  To a certain extent, I feel like Bill Murray’s character, trapped by time.  However, while Phil slowly learned to make the most of each day, I keep making the same mistakes year after year.  Like the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, I find myself stuck in a pattern of sin, unable to break free.

So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], 23 but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members, Romans 7:21-23.

Since I began working nights four years ago, attending church has been a difficult task due to my sleep schedule.  When I did miss a Sunday, I started watching a few pastors on TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  At some point, I thought I was strong enough to go without a congregation, attending church about once a month.  Yet, now I know I was misled by a rationalizing mind.  God designed human beings to be social creatures who thrive in a fellowship of believers.  Unfortunately, I was blinded, believing that I could exist apart from Christ’s body.  Boy… was I wrong!

Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]? 25 Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin, Romans 7:24-25.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know the necessary course of action, reconnect and join a church.  As a former youth pastor, its hard to overlook all the flaws that I see when I visit a new church.  Nonetheless, I have to make a decision before the summer ends.  As I cope with my wretched state, at least deliverance is available to those who trust in Jesus Christ.  May this blog serve as a warning so that you don’t make the same mistake of trying to serve God without a church to call home.  If you don’t, you might find yourself pondering, “what have I been doing?”

by Jay Mankus

Are You Still Sleeping?

From time to time, my soul is filled with an overwhelming sense of conviction.  This guilt comes from spiritual naps, periods of my life where I fell asleep to what God wanted me to do, say or stand up for.  The Bible refers to this state as lukewarm.  Past generations used words such as wishy washy to explain how lame my faith can be at times.  To be bluntly honest,  I am fighting a losing battle, wrestling to stay above rising flood waters pulling me under.

And He came back and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Were you unable to keep watch for one hour? 38 Keep [actively] watching and praying so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” Mark 14:37-38.

No one is immune to sleeping as the human body is hard to control.  This requires an intent focus, like a disciplined athlete training for their next competition.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for someone to slip into merely going through the motions.  Whether you are talking about prayer, reading the Bible or worship, these practices can become a mundane event, void of spiritual fire or zeal.  I guess you can say this is where I am, still sleeping, unable to awaken from this spiritual funk.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, Romans 8:26.

According to the apostle Paul, those who find themselves in this spiritual state need to cry out to the Holy Spirit for help.  Instead of babbling the same old powerless prayer, ask God to intercede through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I’m tied of doing the same lame thing, hoping for a better outcome.  Therefore, join me in an awakening of the soul to once again put into practice the word of God.  If you’re still sleeping like me, its time to get up, Luke 21:36.

by Jay Mankus

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