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Find Your Passion and Pursue It

When I was in high school, Michael W. Smith was the top Christian artist in the nation. Songs like Go West Young Man, Secret Ambition and Place in this World inspired me to start thinking about the future. While in college at the University of Delaware, I was torn between becoming a golf course architect and serving as a youth pastor. Following a dual internship in Cleveland, Ohio, I discovered my true passion and began to pursue it.

Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own, Philippians 3:12.

After working as an Inner City Workcamp Coordinator and Youth Director at a Methodist Church, I wasn’t sure about how to build a ministry. Following a visit to a Youth Ministry Trade School, a renewed passion was conceived as this training gave me the knowledge and vision to succeed. However, in any ministry there are big egos with a tendency for control and power which make maintaining healthy relationships difficult.

I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward, Philippians 3:13-14.

Over the years I’ve learned that desires and passions come and go. What you believe and think about your role in life today may change as the situations around you fluctuate. Just as societies and the world evolves, it’s important to re-evaluate where you want to go and what you want to do. Once you discover your spiritual gifts and unleash the desires within your heart, pursue God’s will as you seize each day.

by Jay Mankus

Personal Responsibility

After my father was transferred to the mid-west, I spent nearly a decade living in Cleveland. This enabled me to visit local attractions like Cedar Point Amusement Park and Sea World. Over time I began to learn some of the local history of this area. While discovering the Flats in downtown Cleveland, a series of night clubs, sports bars and restaurants, I was informed about the famous fire on the Cuyahoga River. The more I researched this river that runs through downtown Cleveland, I found that much of this dark past has been hidden from the public.

So you shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood shed in it, but by the blood of him who shed it. 34 And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell in the midst of the people of Israel, Numbers 35:33-34.

As a growing industrial city, pollution in Cleveland was never a concern until a 10th fire broke out on the Cuyahoga River. Beginning in 1868, fires were accepted as a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution. These first 9 fires were mostly hidden from the national media, despite the 1.5 million dollars in damage caused by the 1952 blaze. Unfortunately, up until the 1970’s, bodies of water were used as dumping areas, expecting currents to carry this trash downstream. However, the optics of the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire was so bad, that Congress acted a year later to form the Environmental Protection Agency.

Beloved, I implore you as aliens and strangers and exiles [in this world] to abstain from the sensual urges (the evil desires, the passions of the flesh, your lower nature) that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves properly (honorably, righteously) among the Gentiles, so that, although they may slander you as evildoers, [yet] they may by witnessing your good deeds [come to] glorify God in the day of inspection [when God shall look upon you wanderers as a pastor or shepherd looks over his flock], 1 Peter 2:11-12.

From the Old Testament to the New Testament, pollution is considered a personal responsibility. Under the leadership of Moses, God urged Israel to be good stewards of their new promised land. When individuals decide to become lazy or sloppy with their surrounding environment, people are defiling the land in God’s eyes. In the passage above, one of Jesus’ disciples speaks of another type of pollution. Cursing and destructive words are viewed as a form of air pollution. Meanwhile, inappropriate actions, behavior, and choices result in spiritual corruption, polluting souls. Thus, if you want to make a difference in this world, exercise personal responsibility by seeking to live an upright life.

by Jay Mankus

Bad for Business

I spent the first two years of my youngest son’s life, James, trying to start my own business. Well before the reality show Shipping Wars aired on A&E, I was making bids to deliver freight and important documents up and down the East Coast. My shining moment occurred when I made $3000 in 24 hours, delivering a few pallets from Wilmington, Delaware to Chicago, Illinois. Since my parents lived in Cleveland, Ohio at the time, I drove 7 hours, slept for 7 hours and finished the remaining 7 hours with a couple to spare. However, I did spent $1000 on renting a truck, gas and tolls so I only profited 2K. Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining two vehicles, driving 1000 miles a week and breaking down a couple of times finally inspired me to walk away from this business by entering the classroom as a teacher.

About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way (Jesus, Christianity). 24 Now a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of [the goddess] Artemis (Diana), was bringing no small profit to the craftsmen, Acts 19:23-24.

According to Luke, the spread of Christianity had a negative impact on craftsmen during the first century. As followers of Artemis began to convert to Christ, idol worship gradually declined. Thus, requests for silver decorations, idols and shrines of Diana plummeted. This economic downturn inspired craftsmen throughout the province of Asia to gather together in Ephesus. Luke details the discussion in the passage below, trying to figure out how to restore the popularity of Artemis and idol worship throughout the world. Workmen in similar trades were panicking, fearful that if Christianity continued to spread, their occupation would no longer be in demand or needed.

These [craftsmen] he called together, along with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you are well aware that we make a good living from this business. 26 You see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but almost all over [the province of] Asia, this Paul has persuaded [people to believe his teaching] and has misled a large number of people, claiming that gods made by [human] hands are not really gods at all. 27 Not only is there danger that this trade of ours will be discredited, but also that the [magnificent] temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and that she whom all Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned and lose her glorious magnificence,” Acts 19:25-27.

During more recent great awakenings, there are more examples of how the spread of Christianity was bad for business but good for the community. This is best detailed in a book and sermons by Leonard Ravenhill who spent most of his life as a Christian evangelist. Born in Leeds, England in 1907, Ravenhill reveals how the revival of the early 1900’s transformed parts of England. At the height of this spiritual awakening, crime disappeared causing police to be laid off. As attendance at evening church services skyrocketed, policemen were hired by churches to direct traffic. Meanwhile, mules from local mines needed to be retrained as transformed miners stopped curses causing mules to not know to respond to calm, gentle voices. Although recent revivals haven’t completely transformed nearby communities, when true awakening breaks out, God’s business of saving souls prospers.

by Jay Mankus

Lies within Your Heart

As someone who grew up in the Catholic church, I was raised to believe that priests were the only individuals who were worthy enough to study the Bible and teach God’s Word. After a revival during the 1970’s, some priests began to encourage members of their congregation to start reading the Bible outside of church. Unfortunately, the church my family attended in Wilmington, Delaware was stuck in the dark ages until my dad’s relocation to Cleveland, Ohio. About this same time, I began to open my own Bible outside of church which exposed lies within my heart.

The [intrinsically] good man produces what is good and honorable and moral out of the good treasure [stored] in his heart; and the [intrinsically] evil man produces what is wicked and depraved out of the evil [in his heart]; for his mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart, Luke 6:45.

When I started teaching high school Bible at Red Lion, a Sunday School class that I attended introduced me to a book called Restoring the Foundations. Written by Chester and Becky Kylstra, I discovered that this book inspired a healing ministry based upon addressing ungodly beliefs individuals have collected over the course of their lives. Like spiritual baggage weighing down your heart, soul and mind, this integrated approach introduced me to new terms such as soul spirit hurts. As people unpack this baggage, exposed lies can haunt you; preventing you from being healed.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is recognized and judged by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart,” Matthew 12:33-34.

During the first century, Jesus introduced a troubling new teaching. When these words were first verbalized, I’m sure conviction silenced any whispers in the crowd. The thought of lies within your heart likely deflated souls previously filled with confidence and pride. This biblical truth sent shockwaves across town as murmurs echoed of this hidden evil from within. Scholars likely declared the words of the prophet are true, Jeremiah 17:1-10. As modern believers are introduced to this truth today, lies within your heart can finally be addressed by an integrated approach to healing.

by Jay Mankus

When You Become the Prodigal

During my final year of college, I joined an accountability group.  The official title of this weekly gathering was a Reunion Group with men whom I met during a Walk to Emmaus Retreat.  This sharing group involved giving a brief summary of your week which included your moment closest to Christ and furthest away from God.  Since we started meeting on Monday nights in the fall, most of this group stuck around to watch Monday Night Football afterwards.  Unfortunately, when I went back home to Cleveland, Ohio over break and the summer, I blended into the world like a chameleon.  Instead of developing into a light for Christ, I regularly walked in darkness like the account of the prodigal son in Luke 15.

“Now a traveler (visitor) came to the rich man, and to avoid taking one from his own flock or herd to prepare [a meal] for the traveler who had come to him, He took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for his guest.” Then David’s anger burned intensely against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die. He shall make restitution for the ewe lamb four times as much [as the lamb was worth], because he did this thing and had no compassion.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you as king over Israel, and I spared you from the hand of Saul, 2 Samuel 12:4-7.

You don’t have to squander your wealth in wild living such as Luke 15:13-15 to become a prodigal.  Rather, idleness, too much free time and a lack of vision can lead a man after God’s own heart into sinful addictions.  Instead of going to work, David took the Spring off, wandering around the roof of his palace until a naked woman got his attention.  Like any curious man, David inquired into the status of this woman, hoping that she was single.  When the answer was no, the power of being king went to David’s head, allowing compromise to imagine the possibilities of just one night with this beautiful woman.  A follower of Jesus describes this state as lust and enticement dragging individuals away from common sense until sin becomes full blown, James 1:13-15.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me. 11  Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit, Psalm 51:10-12.

After David realized that he was the person in Nathan’s analogy, Psalm 51 becomes a prayer for forgiveness.  Prior to this confession, sin had entangled David within a pit of despair.  Psalm 55:4-5 describes a spirit of conviction and guilt that overwhelms souls when you are revealed as the prodigal.  This narcissistic mindset blinds individuals from seeing the truth, the wayward of selfish decisions.  While David does provide a blueprint for reconciliation, the reality that I have become the prodigal is a tough pill to swallow.  It only took one week of skipping church, sleeping in on Sunday to lead me on the slippery slope that I resid.  Doing the right thing sounds so easy, but the apostle Paul reminds readers of Romans 7 that sin influences you to do what you hate.  Thus, the next time you find yourself like me, shocked to be the prodigal, take these biblical passages to heart so that forgiveness arrives in the morning, Lamentations 3:19-23.

by Jay Mankus

From Heaven or Earth?

When my father was forced to transfer to Cleveland, Ohio to keep his job, I was introduced to cocktail parties.  If you want to move from the middle to upper class, I learned that these social events were a necessary evil.  These house parties enabled my parents to make new friends.  This group called New Clevelanders encouraged parents to bring their own college children to these functions as a way to network as families started over in a new town.  I quickly realized that colleges, degrees and majors provided surface level discussions.  If you wanted to fit in, going clubbing, drinking and partying were code names into this elite club.  I went along with the crowd for a while until conviction made it clear that I was living a lie.

Jesus replied, “I will also ask you a question. You tell Me: The baptism of John [the Baptist]—was it from heaven [that is, ordained by God] or from men?” – Luke 20:3-4

During the first century, Jesus began to debate religious scholars.  Raised in elite and wealthy families, these men were schooled by the best and brightest minds.  Meanwhile, Jesus who spent most of his life as a carpenter, void of any formal educational, drew much larger crowds.  Thus, resentment manifested in the hearts of these men, jealous of Jesus’ popularity.  This culminated in the passage above as Jesus uses John the Baptist to illustrate that authority can come from heaven, not just through earthly institutions.  Certain aspects, knowledge and qualities can only be explained as ordained by God despite what earthly wisdom may suggest.

They discussed and debated it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are firmly convinced that John was a prophet,” Luke 20:5-6.

During a breakfast I had with a friend in December, he marveled at my ability to come up with thousands of ideas for my blogs.  From an earthly point of view, my only credentials for writing involve teaching poetry at a boarding school.  This tangible experience ignited a passion for writing.  Nothing in my past pointed to a career in writing.  My English grades, grammar and vocabulary were average at best.  Yet, just as John the Baptist received a special anointing from God, the Lord has given me the gift of writing in the Spirit.  The more in tune with God I become, the deeper my blogs tend to be.  However, on occasion, I become unplugged, relying on earthly knowledge, struggling to come up with material for a week.  These phases are natural, a by product of human nature.  Nonetheless, while earthly credentials do lead to successful writers, I credit my heavenly father for Express Yourself 4Him.

by Jay Mankus

 

Living by Design… Not by Default

I changed my major three times before my junior year of college.  Initially, I went into Business Administration, then Civil Engineering before deciding upon Recreation and Parks Administration.  This indecision forced me to take the five year plan, spending one semester doing an internship in Golf Course Design and Maintenance.  With most of my friends in Cleveland back at school, I volunteered at a local church 2 days a week as an informal youth ministry internship.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse, Romans 1:20.

After graduating in May of 1992, the default position was to accept an apprenticeship in Boston, Massachusetts.  The company performing the redesign in Cleveland wanted me to become familiar with running all of the high tech equipment before guaranteeing a salary.  Unsure of where I would live and how I would I survive without getting paid for six months, I declined this offer.  Instead, I trusted the Holy Spirit to live by God’s design.  This choice led to a position as the Work Camp Coordinator for Inner city Wilmington, Delaware.  While the pay was puny, the experience was life changing.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, Romans 8:28-29.

Looking back over the past 25 years, I wish I could say that I have followed God’s will throughout my life.  Unfortunately, the older you become, life gets more complicated.  Living by design requires sacrifices that I have been unwilling to submit to and take.  Thus, I find myself today living by default, living pay check to pay check without much purpose or reason.  Although I can’t go back and change the decisions that I have made in the past, I can alter my current course.  Therefore, I urge anyone struggling to find meaning in life to starting living by God’s design, Romans 12:1-2.  Reflect, pray and ask God for vision so that you can begin to seize each day through a life devoted to living by God’s design.

by Jay Mankus

A Thornbush in a Drunkard’s Hand

Forrest Gump gave America the notion that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.”  This imagery reminds individuals of the days of generic Valentine Day boxes filled with an unlabeled variety of flavors.  Unfortunately, few movies address delicate issues like alcoholism in When a Man Loves a Woman.

Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool, Proverbs 26:9.

According to King Solomon, drunkenness is nothing new.  Jewish wedding receptions often lasted several days with some extended for a week.  It was common for hosts to bring out cheap wine once most of the guests were hammered, unable to tell the difference anymore.  Whether Solomon is referring to an actual event following a party or using hyperbole, drinking numbs the pain of individuals.  The physical affects with a thornbush will be felt after the alcohol wears off.

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap, Luke 21:34.

One of the hardest transitions facing young people is learning to have fun in life without alcohol.  When my father was transferred to Cleveland while I was in college, making new friends was tough.  After meeting some people my own age, I became their designated driver whenever this group went clubbing on the Flats in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.  Unfortunately, most of them could not dance without getting drunk.  Not wanting to wait one evening, I traded places with a girl friend, helping the crew down 3 pitchers of beer.  While I was the life of the party for a few hours, the lingering affects of this spree lasted 2 days.  Thus, I know what its like to be a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand and its not a place where you’ll ever want to visit.  Heed the passage above to avoid the pain I endured.

by Jay Mankus

The Final Weigh In

During my sophomore year of college, my parents moved from Delaware to Cleveland, Ohio.  In my first summer, I met some friends working at a local country club, one whom I instantly clicked with.  When he wasn’t serving as my sand volleyball partner, Eddy wrestled for Cleveland State.  Always conscience of his weight, Eddy shared about the discipline and sacrifices necessary to make weight for his matches.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way, Daniel 1:8.

Today, my oldest son James deals with a similar issue on a weekly basis.  Before each Pole Vault competition, you have a weigh in before a judge.  Depending upon the scale, your pole is determined based upon your weight.  Thus, if you weigh just a pound over the legal limit, you are forced to use a heavy pole, not as flexible as the lighter ones.  A few weeks ago James had to lose five pounds in 24 hours just to compete.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food, Daniel 1:15.

Following ten days of eating fruits and vegetables, there was a noticeable difference between Daniel and rest of those in the king’s service.  While there wasn’t a scale to step on, Daniel and his Jewish friends found favor with God.  Under different circumstances, I had one last weigh in upon completing my Daniel Fast.  To my surprise, I lost 16 pounds in 21 days.  Although part of me wants to continue to lose weight, that’s not my main priority.  One day everyone will have their final weigh in on judgement day.  When this day arrives, may the grace of God be merciful on this sinner.  Prepare now for your own final weigh in.

by Jay Mankus

 

King of the Court

Being honored as part of the home coming court would have been nice, but I didn’t even make the ballot.  Although becoming king of a basketball court was a dream, this white man’s got no game.  However, there was one place where I did shine for a season.  Believe it or not, I was king of the sand volleyball court.

During my final 2 summers of college, I teamed up with a wrestler from Cleveland State University, Eddy Z.  Whenever I wasn’t working at the country club or playing golf, I spent most of my free time on the old sand volleyball court at Geaugua Lake, now called Geaugua Lake’s Wildwater Kingdom.  Sure, I had other hobbies like singing karaoke at Rick’s Cafe, dancing at one of the night clubs on the Flats in downtown Cleveland and traveling, yet sand volleyball became my passion.

After taking a volleyball class at the University of Delaware, I was able to rebuild strength in my surgically repaired ankle and extend my vertical jump beyond 30 inches.  This knowledge was utilized as I played Wallyball in the winter, winning an intramural title on a coed team with Doug, Liz and Rosie; later losing to the men’s and women’s volleyball team in the finals of a co-ed March Madness style 32 team field.   Despite having several flaws in my techniques, my will to win overcame these deficiencies.

Eddy was quick like lightning, able to dig or get to any ball in the fenced in arena, developed an amazing skyball serve and set the ball as good as anyone I have ever known.  Meanwhile, I perfected a windmill serve, causing a fast downward motion, cupping my hand to create a knuckle ball affect.  In the end, Eddy and I probably lost 3 matches in 2 years, beating teams from Ohio State, Miami of Ohio and Kent State on a regular basis.  On 1 summer day, we played 8 straight hours, only stopping to drink water before dispatching the next team.  Though we shared the court with other season pass members and visitors to Geaugua Lake, whenever I entered the gate, I felt like I was king of the court.

Now, old, mostly bald and grey, all I have are the memories of the music, the wave pool crashing next door and the cheers from the crowd after another point won.  However, today, there is a new king.  While, not exactly new, yet new to those who choose to follow Him.  Despite the gifts or talents you have been given, without this king life is incomplete, John 10:10.  May you come to know the true King of the Court, awestruck by his glory and wonder, Psalm 19:1-6.

by Jay Mankus

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