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The Circle of Life

Twenty two years ago, my wife Leanne received confirmation that she was pregnant with our first child.  While I was able to share this good news in person with my mom, my father was away on a business trip.  This good news was replaced by sorrow as my grandmother passed away on this same day.  Following the funeral of my dad’s mother, new parenting classes attempted to prepare us for raising a child.  Twenty one years ago over Memorial Day Weekend, Leanne endured 29 hours of labor to give birth to James.

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone [just one grain, never more]. But if it dies, it produces much grain and yields a harvest, John 12:24.

Fast forwarding 19 years, another tragedy illustrates the circle of life.  Leanne’s father was in a bad car accident, battling to stay a live for a couple of weeks.  Away at college, James wasn’t able to be there as his grandfather passed away.  However, James did call the hospital, breaking the news over the phone of a new girl friend.  Jim’s funeral introduced Emma to our family, fitting in naturally.  One year later, James shared he proposed to Emma, setting the date of his own wedding this Memorial Day Weekend.  As death takes one soul away, the birth of a new relationship sets the stage for the circle of life to be completed.

The one who loves his life [eventually] loses it [through death], but the one who hates his life in this world [and is concerned with pleasing God] will keep it for life eternal, John 12:25.

As I experience hosting my first rehearsal dinner tonight, I am passing the torch to my oldest son.  After tonight, James is on his own, starting a new journey with his soul mate Emma.  I’m not sure exactly what to say, but all I know is to pass on words of wisdom from the Bible.  As I think of the perfect thing to say, I am reminded of Jesus’ comments in the passage above.  In the context of marriage, two will become one.  Just as individuals must die to self so that Christ might live, couples must yield to God to take the wheel, direction in life.  As my wife and I complete one task, raising James, we look forward to becoming supportive parents in Emma and James’ future endeavors.

by Jay Mankus

The Shadow of Death

Every morning and evening before sunset, shadows reflect the landscape of the earth.  Mountains, rolling hills and trees leave imprints of what is near or around you.  Once darkness exchanges day with night, shadows are limited to moonlight, stars and the northern lights.  However, the shadow of death can apear at a moments notice, signaling that your days on earth are numbered.  24 hours ago there was a murder suicide in my neighborhood, taking the lives of two twenty year olds.

Even though I walk through the [sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort and console me, Psalm 23:4.

Psalm 23 is a common Bible reading at funerals.  As a shepherd living under the stars, shadows were a normal sight for David.  Yet, the painful reality of death inspired David to coin this chapter.  The only time I have witnessed death was just before my oldest sons birth.  Since my grandfather’s health was failing, family was noticed as everyone gathered around his bed.  Struggling to breathe, my sister Cindy began to read Psalm 23 to ease his pain.  A few minutes later, grandpa Kautz gave up his spirit.

“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.”

One of the forefather’s of Israel, Moses eludes to the shadow of death in his farewell address before Joshua takes over for him as leader.  Moses provides an unique perspective, using choices as an analogy.  According to Moses, the choices you make daily lead to one destination or the other.  Life and death are a series of choices that shape the path you will take in life.  If this is true, choose life so that the shadow of death will be held off until later on in life.

by Jay Mankus

Voices from the Grave

After spending a long weekend enjoying the warmth of Florida, the remaining days of my family vacation served a different purpose.  My wife’s father bought a condo back in the 1990’s when her brother JD was pursuing a career as a professional golfer.  Following my marriage proposal to Leanne, I spent a winter living in Florida with JD to fulfill my own dream.  With the passing of Jim Wagner last fall, it was time to clean out everything that has accumulated over the past 25 years.  Before putting this property on the market, sorting through what was left behind was necessary and to my surprise like hearing voices from the grave.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead, James 2:26.

When death separates the living from the deceased, one of the few things you have remaining are the memories of your time together on earth.  Two of my visits to Oldsmar, Florida were business trips, serving as a staff writer for Travel Golf Media.  One of the perks of this job was playing golf for free along with a photographer.  Thus, Jim and Leanne took turns helping me, saving several hundreds of dollars in greens fees in the process.  While going through a closest I found several hats, a golf shirt and score cards from these memorable rounds of golf.  Upon seeing these items, it was like hearing Jim’s voice again saying, “thanks for a great round!”

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead,” Matthew 8:22.

The hardest part about coping with death is letting go.  Some mourning individuals create a memorial in their homes with letters, pictures or clothing worn by this loved one.  Meanwhile, deadly accidents have crosses or wreaths to remind you of the fallen.  Yet, at some point you have to move on.  During a discussion with potential candidates, Jesus urged eager disciples to let the dead bury their own dead.  Jesus isn’t trying to be cruel or harsh.  Essentially, Jesus is commanding his followers to focus on the living, those near you who need your help.  Therefore, if you want to leave your own legacy take Jesus’ advice so that your actions may serve as voices from the grave after you are gone.

by Jay Mankus

 

When Life is Cruel and Unfair

The title of Clint Eastwood’s classic western film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly provides a much more accurate assessment of life than I initially thought.  In this context, the good symbolizes blessings, fruits of hard work, rewards, success and victories in life.  Meanwhile, the bad includes accidents, disappointment, failure, injuries, setbacks and unforeseen events.  Ugly represents examples of when life is cruel and unfair, taking the forms of curses, demonic influences and generational sins.

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, Exodus 20:5.

On my first day back to work following bereavement for my father in law’s funeral, I received more bad news.  One of my co-workers Dominic, suffered a brain aneurism on one of his day’s off.  Dominic is one of those people you enjoy interacting with, engaging, friendly, kind and at times longwinded.  Nonetheless, Dominic had just received a promotion, relocating to a new building in Maryland.  His future looked bright until a severe brain aneurism has left Dominic on the verge of death.  For a young man with a girl friend and the rest of his life in front of him, this fate doesn’t seem fair.

However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:  Deuteronomy 28:15.

The only way to explain this tragedy and similar heart breaking stories can be found in the ten commandments, specifically Exodus 20:5.  Moses reflects upon this biblical truth within an entire chapter in Deuteronomy.  Moses spends the first 14 verses of chapter 28 highlighting signs of God’s blessings.  The remaining 54 verses uncover hints of curses and or consequences of generational sins.  Due to the extent of details shared within this chapter of the Bible, it’s safe to say more curses exist than blessings.  Subsequently, people shouldn’t be surprised by examples of when life is cruel and unfair.  In view of this harsh reality, it’s essential to live each day on earth like it’s your last, assuring and preparing yourself for life beyond this world, 1 John 5:13.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

When There is No One Left to Lean On

There are times in life where events happen so fast that it’s hard to adapt, adjust or merely hang on.  If you fall behind, trying to recover from what just occurred, you can feel lost, not sure what step to take next.  Unfortunately, death has a way of leaving some with no one left to lean on.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: Ecclesiastes 4:9.

These words above and below by Solomon may not mean much to someone surrounded by a loving family, friends or neighborhood.  Yet, for abandoned kids, single moms and widows, verse 10 may be a foreshadowing of the future.  Meanwhile, addicts, the depressed and lonely struggle to find anyone who will be there during times of need.

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up, Ecclesiastes 4:10.

These two passages of Scripture have a new meaning to me.  For the past 22 years I have taken my wife for granted, unaware of all that she does daily.  Now that she is in Chicago taking care of her mom following her dad’s death, I know how it feels to have no one to lean on.  As I struggle to manage for a couple of more weeks raising my children, there is an invisible force who can pick you up, John 16:13.  When there is no one left to lean on, cry out to Jesus who may send angels, the Holy Spirit or a stranger to get you through each day.

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

 

The Passing

Time can serve as a foe or a friend.  When you are young, classes, days or months may drag on seeming endless.  Yet, special moments are portions of time that you never want to end, savoring each second while it lasts.  Unfortunately, all things in life will eventually pass.

Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah, Psalm 39:5.

Human being shouldn’t be surprised by death.  God created Adam out of dust and Job came to the realization from “ashes we were created and to dust we will return.”  As great as celebrating the birth of a new child can be, the news of death can ruin your day.  When I called my father to tell him Leanne was pregnant for the first time, he responded your grandmother is dead.

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes, James 4:14.

The worst aspect of any passing is for those who don’t get the chance to say goodbye.  My dog Autumn passed away earlier in the week after being part of the family for over ten years.  While Autumn and I had our differences, it’s strange not seeing her by our bed each morning.  Since my son Daniel was at a baseball game, he never got the chance to say a final goodbye.  Whether its a person or a pet, live each day like its your last so you take the time to say goodbye to those whom you love.

by Jay Mankus

 

Just Pray

In recent years, my mother and wife’s mom have been rushed to the hospital.  The older you become, the closer death draws near.  Yet, when you reach that point of helplessness, worry doesn’t do anything but make matters worse.  Thus, as my wife returned from visiting her ailing mother, the first thing that came to my mind to cope with her stress was, “just pray.”

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, Philippians 4:6.

Beside dealing with health concerns, almost everyone has a co-worker, family member or neighbor who is their own worst enemy.  This type of individual tends to be stubborn, failing to listen or take the advice of friends.  Thus, a vicious cycle is repeated as the same mistakes and sins occur over and over again.  Although gossip is often the first response to these unfortunate souls, a better alternative is to resist this temptation through prayer.

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.

Jesus demonstrated an unusual but effective practice related to prayer.  Whenever a person was on the verge of death or presumed dead, Jesus told everyone to leave the room or house.  The purpose of this was to get rid of anyone who did not believe God could change a dire situation.  Essentially, Jesus removed doubt from hindering his prayers.  Subsequently, healings, miracles and resurrections occurred on a regular basis.  Wherever you are and whatever you are going through, when you feel like giving up, just pray.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

Forgetting to Thank the One Providing the Blessings

The expression “you don’t know what you had until its gone” often hits home over the holidays.  Each year death takes away someone or something special from our lives.  Unfortunately, when life is going well, people forget to be grateful.  Take for example the Israelites, freed from 400 years of oppression and slavery.  Yet, this wasn’t enough as hungry stomachs led to complaining and grumbling.  When God answered their prayers in the form of manna, bread from heaven, the magic of this miracle soon wore off, craving more.  As quail arrived, sent by the Lord, the Israelites forgot to thank the One providing the blessings.

The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD‘s hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death,” Exodus 16:3.

Doctors tend to notice certain details that most individuals miss.  In the case of Luke, a first century physician, his version of the Healing of 10 Lepers mentions an unique observation.  Leprosy attacks the vocal cords, limiting one’s ability to project their voices.  One of the ten healed by Jesus was overcome by emotion, crying out at the top of his lungs for the first time in years.  While Jesus is disappointed that only one person came back to thank him, Luke highlights the immediate healing experienced by this man.  The other nine took their speech for granted, yet one man did not miss the opportunity to thank the One who performed this blessing.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” – Luke 17:15-18

On Thanksgiving Day, hearts and minds tend to be fixed on cooking, football or shopping.  Instead of slowing down to enjoy life, the pursuit of happiness causes souls to search for self-gratification.  This exercise usually leads to disappointment or emptiness.  Therefore, this year on this sacred day, make sure you take the time to thank the good Lord above for all the blessings in this life.  If you don’t, you will miss a golden opportunity to prepare your heart to catch the spirit of Christmas, with good tidings and great joy to all!

by Jay Mankus

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

On October 21st, the 2015 World Long Driving Champion was crowned on the Golf Channel.  However, there was one competitor who should have been there, but God had another plan.  One of my former students, the starting center fielder for Liberty University at the time, began to dabble in long drive competitions.  During a round I played with Joseph, he drove over the first green, a 380 yard par 4.  On the second hole, his tee shot plugged by the 150 marker on a par 5.  Joseph Feeley was destined to contend for this championship, but the Lord took him home before ever finishing college.

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king, Daniel 3:17.

Another friend had just received a full time job at a local university.  This meant his daughter’s final two years of tuition would be free along with an opportunity to complete his masters.  After years of frustration, things were finally coming together.  Then, out of the blue, within a two day period, my Christian brother lost his job and father to a heart attack.  In the weeks and months that followed, one of his initial thoughts was “what did I do to deserve this?”

So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” – Daniel 6:16

When Daniel was thrown to a lion’s den, I wonder what was going through his mind?  On their way to being thrown into a fiery furnace, did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego second guess their decision not to bow down and worship the god of Nebuchadnezzar?  At some point during a trial, human nature is bound to cause individuals to question God?  In the end, time is the great equalizer, providing insight to the how’s and why’s.  Yet, nothing is guaranteed, a waiting game until your last breath.  Thus, the next time you experience heartbreak hotel, seek the Lord for comfort, peace and understanding.

by Jay Mankus

 

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