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Catching Your Dreams

As a former athlete, I understand the concept of setting goals.  At the beginning of each season, I would use a notecard to write down my expectations.  Whether I was running, swimming or playing golf, I tried to raise the bar higher and higher each time I set a personal record.  The only hard part about setting a score or time to beat, eventually you reach a saturation point.  For example, I haven’t bested 69 for 18 holes in golf since my junior year of high school.  Meanwhile, I never came close to breaking 17 minutes for a 5K race after doing it once as a senior.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up, Galatians 6:9.

I guess what I am trying to say is that as an adult, I spend most of my time chasing dreams instead of actually catching them.  There is an old saying that refers to being close.  This idiom claims that being close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  If you want to be the best, losing over and over again to someone slightly better is frustrating.  When you get closer and closer to catching a dream, hope is conceived, turning doubters into believers.  Yet, if progress is never achieved, chasing dreams can become like a dog attempting to catch their own tail.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him, James 1:12.

The other night I watched the film I Can Only Imagined.  Bart Millard grew up in a dysfunctional family made worse when his mother refused to take Bart with her after moving out.  Left to his abusive father, Bart wanted to chase and catch dreams.  However, the negativity spewed by Bart’s dad bombarded his mind, leaving behind emotional, physical and spiritual scars.  Despite these obstacles, Bart traveled the country with a Christian group called Mercy Me attempting to follow in the footsteps of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.  Yet, it took cancer to inflict his father and redemption to transform his heart before the Lord gave Bart the words to I can only image.  Upon releasing this single on a 1999 album, the Worship Project, Bart finally caught his dream.  May Bart Millard‘s perseverance inspire you to catch your own dreams.

by Jay Mankus

 

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You Only Get One Life

As the 2018 National Basketball Association kicked off their season in Boston this week, I am reminded of a tragedy from the past.  Len Bias was the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, selected by the Boston Celtics.  This former all American who played at the University of Maryland was primed for greatness.  Yet, during a post draft party, Len decided to try Cocaine, apparently for the first time.  This fateful decision induced cardiac arrhythmia resulting in Bias’ death two days later.

“Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil); 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk [that is, to live each and every day] in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments (precepts), so that you will live and multiply, and that the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to possess, Deuteronomy 30:15-16.

I was about to start my senior year of high school when I first heard of Len Bias’ death.  Growing up ninety minutes from College Park, Maryland, this news was devastating.  To make matters worse, I lost one of my best friends to cancer during my sophomore year of college.  When my grand father passed away, it was tough to deal with, but at least he lived a full life.  However, when a young person, who hasn’t entered the prime of their life is taken away by death, this reality is hard to accept.  Unfortunately, human beings don’t have nine lives like cats who seem to escape death on numerous occasions.

But if your heart turns away and you will not hear and obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you will certainly perish. You will not live long in the land which you cross the Jordan to enter and possess, Deuteronomy 30:17-18.

During his farewell address as leader of Israel, Moses pours out his heart to his followers.  In the middle of his speech, Moses urges the crowd to be careful to make wise decisions.  According to the passage above, each choice you make on earth leads to one of two destinations: life or death.  Since you only get one life to live, choose life.  This isn’t a video game where you get to hit a reset button to receive a new life.  Rather, actions have consequences, especially when poor choices are made.  Therefore, may the words of Moses speak to your heart as you seek to make the most of the life God has given you.

by Jay Mankus

 

Death Knows Where to Find You

The older you get, the presence of death becomes more of a reality.  In the past year, I have lost a cousin, aunt and father in law.  At the last funeral I attended, I received news that my wife’s aunt Rose was recently diagnosed with cancer.  Last week, Rose went home to be with the Lord.  A homecoming in heaven, but a painful reminder of our temporary status on earth.

And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it, Ecclesiastes 12:7.

According to Solomon, our bodies are on loan from God.  The Hebrew word for Adam is Adamah, symbolic of God forming Adam’s body out of the earth.  The moment death strikes human beings, souls return back to God.  While your body is left to decay beneath the ground, your spirit awaits judgment before spending eternity in heaven or hell.

Now there are [distinctive] varieties of spiritual gifts [special abilities given by the grace and extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit operating in believers], but it is the same Spirit [who grants them and empowers believers]. And there are [distinctive] varieties of ministries and service, but it is the same Lord [who is served]. And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit [the spiritual illumination and the enabling of the Holy Spirit] for the common good, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.

The apostle Paul referred to human bodies as a temple.  When the Holy of holies was torn in two during the earthquake immediately following Jesus’ death on a cross, this event set the stage God’s presence to no longer be limited to a physical building.  Rather, Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost opened the door for the Holy Spirit to enter your life.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” Revelation 21:4.

In the last chapter of the Bible, John has a vision of Jesus in heaven.  Seeing the toll death takes on friends, family and relatives, Jesus promises to provide an eternally environment where they will be no more tears.  Heaven is the final destination where God will make you whole.  Since death knows where to find you, make sure your plans are secured before your time is up, 1 John 5:13.

by Jay Mankus

Unwilling

One of my last years serving as a teacher I spent time with a mentor, playing pool in his basement once a month.  While competing in a few friendly games, our conversation turned toward more serious topics.  From time to time, a neighbor came over to join us.  On one occasion this man spoke of his battle with cancer, spending several months at a natural rehabilitation center.  This facility concentrates on altering diets to cure cancer.  Recounting an emotional story, his friend was unwilling to change his eating habits.  This decision led to his death months earlier becoming another victim of cancer,

But the man was saddened at Jesus’ words, and he left grieving, because he owned much property and had many possessions [which he treasured more than his relationship with God], Mark 10:22.

For those who go through life relatively healthy, there’s another decision to consider, what will you devote your life to?  One day a rich young ruler approached Jesus, hoping receive an answer to his spiritual question.  This man believed being good might be enough to get him into heaven.  Jesus exposed his flawed mentality with a three part action plan.  After contemplating Jesus’ words, a spirit of depression consumed this man.  In the end, he was unwilling to let go of his wealth on earth.

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” 59 He said to another, “Follow Me [accepting Me as Master and Teacher].” But he said, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the [spiritually] dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and spread the news about the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord [as Your disciple]; but first let me say goodbye to those at my home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back [to the things left behind] is fit for the kingdom of God,” Luke 9:57-62.

This isn’t the only account of people failing to commit to Jesus’ standards.  A first century doctor recalls a day when three different individuals approached Jesus wanting to be a disciple.  Eager to join Jesus’ ministry team, none of them had the right stuff as each was unwilling to take their faith to extreme measures.  Its easy to play Monday Morning Quarterback by placing yourself into these situations.  However, in the heat of the moment, its hard to know how you respond.  For now, the best thing you can do is mentally prepare yourself for similar situations by asking, “how willing will I be when it counts?”

by Jay Mankus

 

When Hope Hurts

I was watching a documentary last weekend on the Christmas Day tsunami in 2010.  This event took many tourists in Indonesia by surprise, unaware of the signs of impending doom that was about to strike.  Just when eyewitnesses of this tragedy thought it was safe, another powerful wave appeared, stronger than the previous one.  Those who found a secure location above the carnage, watched helplessly, hoping for the best.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer, Romans 12:12.

With family, friends and sightseers separated from their loved ones, the waiting began.  Due to the extreme currents of these rivers of debris, the topography of these resorts were unrecognized after this tsunami.  These condition made it difficult to find those carried away.  Shortly afterward, missing persons bulletin boards and internet sites began to emerge.  Hoping for good news, thousands waited for days, unsure of the fate of their children, parents and spouses.  This is when hope hurts.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you, Psalm 39:7.

As someone who recently received a phone call bearing bad news, this can be devastating.  Whether it’s an accident, cancer or a rare illness, waiting to hear the condition of a loved one produces a heavy heart.  The permanence of death is a tough pill to swallow.  Sure, from time to time, there will be miracles that defy science, but the grave is the final resting place for everyone.  Therefore, as you endure moments in time when hope hurts, place your trust in the Lord.  By doing this, healing comes in the morning, Lamentations 3:23.

by Jay Mankus

 

Keep Pounding

Sam Mills was a gritty defensive player in the National Football League.  Despite his 5 foot 9 inch frame, Mills played 12 years in the NFL, spending his time with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.  Before entering the NFL, Mills spent 3 seasons with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars earning the nickname Field Mouse for his tenacity.  Playing along side Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White, the Stars won 2 league titles.  Through the years, Sam became a leader on and off the field, eventually serving as an assistant defensive coach for Carolina following his retirement.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him, James 1:12.

Before his untimely death, Mills was known for giving inspirational speeches.  Prior to a playoff game with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004, Mills encouraged his defense to Keep Pounding for 60 minutes, referencing his battle with cancer.  This phrase became a mantra for the Carolina Panthers as the team later added a drum to drive this message home to each player.  In April of 2005, Mills succumb to his battle with cancer, dying in his home town of Charlotte.  In the following fall, the Panthers honored Mills by retiring his number 51 jersey.  The legacy of Sam Mills continues today with the theme, Keep Pounding.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up, Galatians 6:9.

In the verse above, the apostle Paul uses a different way of expressing keep pounding.  Instead of applying this to football, these words refer to life.  Everyone will face trials in life.  Whether it’s an accident, illness or unforeseen circumstance, staying positive isn’t easy.  Yet, when you develop perseverance and a will to keep pressing on, God honors the steadfast.  Therefore, whatever obstacle is currently standing in your way, keep pounding until victory is obtained.

by Jay Mankus

 

Cherish Every Breath

As a teenager I attended funerals of classmates who committed suicide.  A few decades later, I went to wakes of former students that I taught whose lives were cut short by cancer.  Yesterday, I came face to face with death, saying goodbye to my cousin Billy who died suddenly last week.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly, John 10:10.

Born three months before me, Billy is the first member of my father’s side of the family to pass away since my grandmother died twenty years ago.  As I paid my final respect to Billy before the casket was closed, I felt as if I could be next.  Thus, I am compelled to value and cherish every breath that I take.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it, Matthew 16:25.

When the busyness of life consumes you, it’s easy to become distracted from what really matters.  Unfortunately, it usually takes some sort of tragedy to snap you out of this malaise.  Despite what you need to do to pay your monthly bills, make sure you don’t lose sight of the frailty of life.  Rather, open your eyes, look around and cherish each day on earth the Lord provides.

by Jay Mankus

 

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