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Aokigahara Forest

Suicide Forest in Japan (Full Documentary) – YouTube

Aokigahara Forest was featured in the 2019 season debut of The Unexplained hosted by William Shatner. The first episode entitled Evil Places visited a couple of geographic locations with a troubled past. While Aokigahara translates into English as “Land of Blue Trees”, this place is known as the Japanese suicide forest. Located northwest of Mount Fuji on the Japanese island of Honshu, visitors find these 35 square meters area to be eerily silent. Remains of about a hundred suicides are removed from the Aokigahara forest every year. Despite warning signs throughout this parking lot, those who enter this forest appear to lose their minds due to the presence of demonic and evil spirits.

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness of [mind and] heart [in gratitude] for the abundance of all [with which He had blessed you], 48 Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and in want of all things; and He will put a yoke of iron upon your neck until He has destroyed you, Deuteronomy 28:47-48.

To those individuals who return to their cars, ropes and strings are located throughout the woods, personal belongings of the dead are scattered on the ground and rumors of ghosts haunting this domain continue today. Nearby residents of Aokigahara Forest have warned their children to stay away from this park for the past sixty years. Unfortunately, curious bystanders can’t resist the urge to explore the anomaly that people who enter this forest go crazy and commit suicide. If you think the Aokigahara Forest is merely an urban legend, local authorities no longer provide official data on suicide rates to journalists.

Moreover, He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every affliction which is not written in this Book of the Law the Lord will bring upon you until you are destroyed, Deuteronomy 28:60-61.

In the Old Testament, Moses devotes to an entire chapter to blessings and curses. Moses spends the first 14 verses to explain how and why blessings occur. Meanwhile, the final 54 verses are designed to highlight how someone, something or a place can be cursed. As more paranormal investigations occur at Aokigahara Forest, perhaps researchers will unlock the secret of these mysterious suicides. However, for now the presence of evil spirits here is invisible to the human eye. Yet, if demons and evil spirits continue to prematurely end the lives to troubles souls, dead bodies are more than enough proof that Aokigahara Forest remains an evil place on earth.

by Jay Mankus

When Knee Jerk Decisions Prolong the Length of Your Storm

Movies are filled with bad decisions which form the plot of a screenplay. Anger, curiosity, knee jerk reactions or pride often make a difficult situation even worse. In the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Skandar Kaynes plays Edmund Pevensie, the third youngest child who suffers from an inferiority complex. When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are deported from London to the house of an eccentric professor during World War 2, Lucy discovers the magical land of Narnia. However, when Peter follows his younger sister into the Wardrobe (the portal to Narnia) the following day, an encounter with the White Witch places his entire family in danger.

As we were being dangerously tossed about by the violence of the storm, the next day they began to throw the freight overboard; 19 And the third day they threw out with their own hands the ship’s equipment (the tackle and the furniture). 20 And when neither sun nor stars were visible for many days and no small tempest kept raging about us, all hope of our being saved was finally abandoned, Acts 27:18-20.

Sailing on an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy, a northeaster disrupts Paul’s trip to Rome. The winds did not let up for several days, slowing the progress of this journey. Warning the crew about a vision he received from God, Acts 27:10, the centurion did not listen, convincing by the captain and owner of this vessel to press on. According to the passage above, conditions continued to worsen as the sun, moon and stars were not visible as the storm blocked out any signs of light. Unfortunately, many Christians go unheard as experts follow science rather than follow the voice of God.

Then as they had eaten nothing for a long time, Paul came forward into their midst and said, Men, you should have listened to me, and should not have put to sea from Crete and brought on this disaster and harm and misery and loss. 22 But [even] now I beg you to be in good spirits and take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you but only of the ship. 23 For this [very] night there stood by my side an angel of the God to Whom I belong and Whom I serve and worship, 24 And he said, Do not be frightened, Paul! It is necessary for you to stand before Caesar; and behold, God has given you all those who are sailing with you. 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith (complete confidence) in God that it will be exactly as it was told me; Acts 27:21-25.

Pastor’s during the Coronavirus face a similar situation today. As local and state officials are placing bans or limits on the number of individuals who can attend church, spiritual leaders are in a difficult spot. Do elders make knee jerk reactions by disregarding state mandates or carefully follow social distancing standards? Human nature tends to lead people to push the limits. Meanwhile, common sense leads human beings to be responsible by putting the needs of others in place of yourself. Whatever circumstance or trial that you face in 2021, make sure that knee jerk reactions don’t prolong the length of your current storm.

by Jay Mankus

More than Just a Yield

In the context of business, a yield is an agricultural, natural or industrial product that is produced. This is achieved by creating, generating, planting and maintaining this process until it yields a completed product. Since the Bible contains analogies of farming and fishing, you have to put in the time before a yield is possible. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule, but determination, hard work and perseverance are crucial ingredients to ensure a productive yield.

Blessed (happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather, Psalm 1:1.

The Bible refers to a spiritual yield based upon the fruits that you accumulate over the course of your life. Christians yield spiritual fruit as individuals begins to develop and use their spiritual gifts and talents. Listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, this collection of special qualities are designed to be utilized at a local church. Depending upon the current needs of your church, you may have to serve in a lesser role until you are able to blossom in the area of your calling.

But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night. And he shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity], Psalm 1:2-3.

Before you get too far ahead in the yielding process, a Psalmist explains what it takes to remain productive in all 4 seasons. Every plant needs access to sunlight and water. Meanwhile, the soil a seed is sown in must be tilled, cleared of rocks and fertilized. From a biblical perspective, the Bible is symbolic of streams of water which nurtures souls. As Christians take delight in God’s boundaries, commands and decrees, lives become more than just a yield. Lives are transformed by an invisible Spirit that plants a desire to experience the abundant life of Christ, John 10:10.

by Jay Mankus

Don’t Let the Devil Keep Dragging Up Your Past

The medical definition of scar tissue is the connective tissue forming a scar; composed chiefly of fibroblasts in recent scars and largely of dense collagenous fibers in old scars. These areas of your body tend to go through a transition from blood to bruising before the healing process leaves subtle indentations or marks. While your body may completely heal physically, emotional and psychological scars remain. Depending upon what traumatic events you have endured in life, the Devil has a way of dragging up these painful memories.

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, 2 Timothy 1:7.

One of the spiritual scar tissues that exists for me is the fear of public speaking. As someone born with a severe speech impediment, my mother barely understood a word I was trying to say as a child. This resulted in a couple of challenging years of elementary school, especially when called upon to read out loud in class. After one particular embarrassing moment early in the school year, I pretended to not know where we were. I decided it was better to get into trouble than endure the pain of stammering and stuttering in front of my peers. The idea of actually expressing myself was a foreign concept, something I never thought was possible.

For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [[full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue), 2 Peter 1:3.

I spent the first 21 years of my life living in fear, doubtful that God can remove this communication barrier. Instead, I allowed the Devil to fill my mind with past failures. I was resigned to live my life as a hermit, like a turtle afraid to come out of it’s shell. Yet, during high school and college, the Lord brought a series of Christians into life, challenging me to face my fear of public speaking. During a Lay Witness Mission in Friendship, Maryland, the Holy Spirit consumed me as I gave my first sermon. Like a resurrected person, the Lord spoke through me like never before. This one victory propelled me into youth ministry after college, a high school Bible teacher for a decade and now as a writer. When you stop letting the Devil drag up your past, dreams, goals and visions can be fulfilled if you just let go of control and let God lead you in 2021.

by Jay Mankus

When a Resident is Not Present

When government officials began their regional lock downs in late March of 2020, the state of Delaware deemed my position as essential. Thus, as many were forced to stay at home, I ventured out on to barren streets to get to work on time. As several of my co-workers decided to opt out, afraid of catching Covid-19, I spent most of my shifts working solo, creating a large back log. While I was blessed with countless opportunities to work overtime, I became a resident who was not present in my community. To avoid getting sick, I stayed in bed as long as possible to prepare myself mentally for another night of work.

Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is, Ephesians 5:16-17.

While visiting the Church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul noticed a group of Christians who attended church regularly, but the presence of a living faith was absent. Based upon his numerous missionary journeys, fruits of the Holy Spirit easily visible in other churches was missing from Ephesian Christians. Based upon the passage above, there was an apathy, complacency and lack of urgency within the hearts and minds of believers. The solution to this void was to become filled with the Holy Spirit. This leads Paul to make an interesting analogy. Instead of getting drunk during celebrations, this fullness should occur daily.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit. 19 Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices [[e]and instruments] and making melody with all your heart to the Lord, Ephesians 5:18-19.

This spiritual infusion begins by reading the Word of God, Romans 10:17. As Christians dust off the covers of their Bible, encouragement, hope, and inspiration is found in these living pages. Yet, becoming filled up with the Holy Spirit starts when individuals enter into a personal relationship with God, Romans 10:9-10. From here, local churches come into play through fellowship with other believers, Acts 2:42-47. If you try to skip one of these steps like I did in 2020, you’ll become a resident who is not present, void of any signs of spiritual life. If you want to make a difference in 2021, make sure you take the time to become filled with God’s Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

Ready or Not Here I Come

Despite being over 50, I still have fond memories of my childhood. After my father was transferred from New Jersey to Wilmington, I’ve spent most of my life living in the state of Delaware. As a child, Jeanette’s house became the meeting place for neighborhood kids. Summers were spent playing board and video games during the day. At dusk, it was time for Hide and Go Seek, lasting until our curfews. If you were it, you would count to 100 before yelling, “ready or not, here I come.”

But what does it matter, so long as either way, whether in pretense [for personal ends] or in all honesty [for the furtherance of the Truth], Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I [now] rejoice, yes, and I shall rejoice [hereafter] also. 19 For I am well assured and indeed know that through your prayers and a bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (the Messiah) this will turn out for my preservation (for the spiritual health and welfare of my own soul) and avail toward the saving work of the Gospel, Philippians 1:18-19.

The apostle Paul uses a similar expression in his letter to the Church at Philippi. Instead of referring to a childhood game, Paul talks about one’s willingness to face death. Upon receiving tragic news, one man has a vision of what will happen after he dies, Job 1:20-21. This harsh reality comes as Job mourns following the death of his children. If Job wasn’t ready for death prior to this tragedy, he came to accept his future fate.

This is in keeping with my own eager desire and persistent expectation and hope, that I shall not disgrace myself nor be put to shame in anything; but that with the utmost freedom of speech and unfailing courage, now as always heretofore, Christ (the Messiah) will be magnified and get glory and praise in this body of mine and be boldly exalted in my person, whether through (by) life or through (by) death. 21 For me to live is Christ [His life in me], and to die is gain [the gain of the glory of eternity], Philippians 1:20-21.

The apostle Paul puts his own spin on Job’s realization. While writing to one of the churches that he helped plant, Paul introduces believers to upward thinking. Instead of fearing death, Christians should embrace it by placing their trust solely in Jesus. As fear of death begins to fade, committed followers can truly say, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Since life is like a blimp on a radar screen, James 4:14-15, ready or not, here I come.

by Jay Mankus

Starting Over in 2021

ξεκινώντας από την αρχή is the Greek word for starting over. Meanwhile, the Latin expression for starting over is iterum incipi. When translated literally into English this refers to again, a second time. As 2020 is thankfully ushered out for good, it’s time to hit the reset button. While no one knows for sure how long the Coronavirus will stick around, starting over with a blank canvas gives me hope of a brighter future.

For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome, Jeremiah 29:11.

Despite earning a nickname as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah 9:1 and Jeremiah 13:17, there is a glimpse of positive news. In the passage above, the Lord finally gives Jeremiah a message of hope. These future plans includes blessings, dreams and a final outcome worth waiting for. Therefore, if you still haven’t gotten over the worst pandemic in the last century, the Bible provides some encouraging news.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and [selected] young men shall feebly stumble and fall exhausted; 31 But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired, Isaiah 40:30-31.

Another Old Testament prophet provides an analogy that most adults can relate to. Between the spread of Covid-19, forced closures of businesses and the stress of trying to stay alive, 2020 has worn out countless souls. Thus, as many have lost their energy and joy for life, it’s time to place your faith in God’s hands again. Just as eaglets trusted their parents renew their strength, it’s time to place your faith in God to start over in 2021.

by Jay Mankus

When You Don’t Have the Strength to Carry On…

Michael W. Smith-Live And Learn – YouTube

In the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul had his own battle with an illness. Instead fighting off the remnants of the Coronavirus, Paul was ravaged by a messenger from Satan. Apparently, Paul was inflicted by a thorn in his flesh, perhaps a splinter became infected. Based upon the context of the passage below, this condition persisted for a number of months if not longer. Some scholars have suggested that Paul is referring to some sort of demonic oppression that began to wear down his emotional and physical strength.

But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me! 10 So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful in divine strength), 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

I was first introduced to today’s two passages by my high school swim coach. Since I only joined the swim team to stay in shape for cross country, I struggled to finish every practice. When you’re running and you trip, you can stop for a moment to retie your laces. However, when your in the middle of a pool, out of breath and tired, you have to keep swimming until you reach the other end. Through my first two years, I only completed a handful of practices. Yet, when I began to take Coach Horne’s advice, Christ became my strength when I was exhausted in the pool.

I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency], Philippians 4:13.

During my sophomore year of high school, my coach also introduced me to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Instead of just being relating this concept to swimming, I learned to apply the Bible to life. While not everyone in these monthly Bible Studies were genuine believers, I tried to become like a sponge, soaking in as much as I could. I guess the best approach to take about implementing the Bible into you life is using the message from Michael W. Smith’s 1989, Live and Learn. No one is ever a completed or finished project. Rather, each day provides opportunities to live and to learn when you don’t have the strength to carry on.

by Jay Mankus

Coming Back Stronger in 2021

As the National Football League ends their 2020 regular season this weekend, 18 teams will miss the playoffs. After having high hopes at the start of 2020, these coaches and players have failed to win the necessary amount of games to earn a postseason birth. While 14 teams will advance with their eyes on a Super Bowl Championship, the remaining teams will turn their attention to the off-season. As fan bases start to play the “what if” game in their minds, owners and general managers will begin to sit down to ascertain what went wrong and why?.

For it is easier for a camel to enter through a needle’s eye than [for] a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. 26 And those who heard it said, Then who can be saved? 27 But He said, What is impossible with men is possible with God, Luke 18:25-27.

You don’t have to be part of a professional organization to have aspirations to come back stronger in 2021. Depending upon your age, career and occupation, you either spent a lot of time at work or most of your time stuck on home. Perhaps, some of you began a new hobby in 2020, revealing a hidden gift or talent. Meanwhile, others may feel like you wasted too much time in front of a television, eager to break this habit in 2021. Thus, as a New Year approaches, make sure whatever resolution(s) you do make for 2021 are centered around coming back better and stronger this year.

And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, Philippians 4:19.

The only resolution that I kept in 2020 was making Jesus more of a priority. Using Mark 1:35 as a model, the first thing that I did when I came home from work in the morning was read the Bible and pray using a journal. I was diligent for most of the year, keeping this vow nearly every week. Instead of rushing through my quiet time to get it done, I had several spiritual breakthroughs. This led to some of the most profitable days I have had writing. While I don’t know what 2021 has in store for me, I do know that the Lord will provide everything I need for life, 2 Peter 1:3-4.

by Jay Mankus

Have You Been Knocked Down??? Perhaps it’s Time to Get Up

Living in South Jersey at the time, I remember my parents taking me to see Rocky I shortly after it debuted in theaters in November of 1976. Despite seeing this film 49 years ago, I still recall how engaged the audience was with Rocky’s character played by Sylvester Stallone. Beside the raucous cheering, total strangers bonded as the fight scene continued until the 15th and final round. Men and women began to cry out, “get up Rocky; get up!” Have you been knocked down in 2020? If so, perhaps it’s time to get up.

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1.

While the Coronavirus has resulted in a living nightmare for countless Americans, the worst year for me was 2012. Before I could enjoying celebrating the start of a new year, I received a phone call on New Year’s Day informing me that my teaching position of 10 years would be terminated at the end of the month. This call was like a punch to the gut, knocking the wind out of my sails. Beside flying to California for Leanne’s uncle’s 80th birthday party, the next 18 months was filled with disappointment, heartbreak and unemployment.

Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Just think of Him Who endured from sinners such grievous opposition and bitter hostility against Himself [reckon up and consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you may not grow weary or exhausted, losing heart and relaxing and fainting in your minds, Hebrews 12:2-3.

At the time, I never thought this trial would end until I landed on my feet at Amazon. If 2020 has left you in the dark, clueless to where to go or what to do, you’re not alone. According to the author of Hebrews, Christians who have passed away are up in heaven cheering you on. Life is compared to a marathon like spectators at the Olympics encouraging tired runners to keep on going until the race is finished. Whatever your current circumstances maybe, don’t let pain keep you down. Rather, get up while there is still time to finish what God has prepared for you to do, Philippians 1:6.

by Jay Mankus

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