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Spiritual Aerobics

Aerobics is a vigorous exercise designed to strengthen the heart and lungs. Besides running, swimming and walking which most of you can do by yourself at home or in your neighborhood, there are an unlimited supply of videos on aerobics. Whether you follow along to a workout video or you tube, there are numerous ways to get back into and stay in shape. However, if you keep putting this off day after day, you’ll lose all motivation for physical exercise.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours. 25 Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither. 26 Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit], 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

The apostle Paul introduces readers to the concept of spiritual aerobics. Using the host city of the Isthmian Games as a backdrop, a prestigious track and field event held during the off years of the Olympics, Paul references the strict training of these athletes. Spiritual aerobics is designed to strengthen your heart, soul and mind. Whether you’re reading the Bible, praying or participating in a worship service, these exercises energize your spiritual life.

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, 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, Hebrews 12:1-12.

The author of Hebrews takes spiritual aerobics to the next level, comparing this to running a marathon. I once ran 15 miles in an afternoon training for my senior year of cross country in high school. While one of my teammates easily cruised through the final few miles, I struggled to finish as my legs got heavier and heavier with each stride. The key to spiritual aerobics is unloading and throwing off anything that is holding you back or slowing you down. Instead of dreading the race called life, keep your head up and fix your eyes on Jesus so you will find the strength to make it to the finish line.

by Jay Mankus

Above and Beyond the Call

The backdrop of the New Testament takes place during the Roman Empire. Unless you were a Roman citizen, you had to do a little extra to get noticed. Scholarly versions of the verse below refer to a practice of impressment by the Roman law on Jews. Therefore, when Jesus urges listeners of the Sermon on the Mount to go the extra mile, this action serves as a plea to go above and beyond the call.

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two [miles], Matthew 5:41.

As a parents of 2 boys who ran cross country and a girl who does spring track, I haven’t met many teenagers who love to run. There were a few on St. Georges track team that won back to back state titles, but runners appear to be a dying breed. Running is one of those hobbies that you have to work at, requiring discipline, focus, and mental toughness. When asked to run an additional mile, few have the energy to be up for this challenge.

Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. 27 But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit], 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

In the passage above, Paul is appealing to athletes and sports fans. As a home of the Isthmian Games, Corinth would host this Track and Field Event every two years. This would run opposite of the ancient Greek Olympic Games. To win at this level of competition requires commitment, dedication, and resolve. The average person is content to do what is asked of them. However, if you want to step up your game, going the extra mile will persuade Christians to go above and beyond the call.

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

Get Your Mind Right with Belief

Doubt is a natural instinct which serves as a protective predisposition within human minds. Excessive inclinations to always doubt is a byproduct of success being rare and failure a normal occurrence. This hindrance to one’s life prevents individuals from reaching the level and potential God desires for you. If you find yourself reading today stifled by doubt, it’s time get your mind right with belief.

For I am already about to be sacrificed [my life is about to be poured out as a drink offering]; the time of my [spirit’s] release [from the body] is at hand and I will soon go free, 2 Timothy 4:6.

The context of the passage above is Paul’s final letter before his death. While in prison awaiting his death sentence, Paul writes to encourage a teenage pastor. When an expected outcome ends up falling apart in front of your eyes, maintaining a positive outlook on life is difficult. Thus, Paul reminds readers today that achieving life’s goals requires perseverance. Whenever you suffer your next defeat, carry on with a new found belief.

I have fought the good (worthy, honorable, and noble) fight, I have finished the race, I have kept (firmly held) the faith, 2 Timothy 4:7.

Like an athlete who leaves everything out on the field, Christians are called to fight to the very end. Instead of trying to sprint a marathon before burning yourself out, you must pace yourself in this race called life. As a former cross country runner, I always wondered why some of my opponents would sprint ahead of me before slowing down to walk. This doesn’t make any sense. In the same manner, if you want to get your mind right, do so with your heart and soul fixed on Jesus, Colossians 3:1-4.

by Jay Mankus

Cancelled by Coronavirus

In a matter of days, college and professional sports seasons, public education classes and my volleyball league have either been cancelled, closed their doors for two to four weeks or suspended their seasons. The culprit, the Coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19 is to blame for this latest pandemic. While out picking up weekly supplies during my normal time, local shoppers treated Thursday afternoon as if the world was coming to an end. With this in mind, what does the Bible say about viruses?

At midnight the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead, Exodus 12:29-30.

The most famous plague of the Old Testament struck Egypt prior to the Exodus of the Jews. According to Moses, every family was impacted, losing the first born male overnight. Meanwhile, cattle farmers lost first born calves as well. According to Numbers 16:49, 14,700 individuals died in a plague brought on by the disobedience of Korah. Another 24,000 Israelites were wiped out by a similar plague in Numbers 25:9. There are other accounts of angels of death, deadly plagues and a real Devil who daily seeks to steal, kill and destroy the lives of weakened souls, 1 Peter 5:8.

So I looked, and behold, an ashy pale horse [black and blue as if made so by bruising], and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades (the realm of the dead) followed him closely. And they were given authority and power over a fourth part of the earth to kill with the sword and with famine and with plague (pestilence, disease) and with wild beasts of the earth, Revelation 6:8.

Whenever individuals experience the unknown, doubt, fear and panic can take hold of troubled hearts. In just one week, life as we know it has been turned upside down. The only recent pandemic that is comparable was the H1N1, back in the Spring of 2009. My oldest son contracted the Swine Flu months later during the Cross Country season. Although James missed nearly 3 weeks of school, he made a complete and full recovery. As human beings, not being in control of your health and well being conceives emotions of hopelessness. Yet, the only thing that you can do right now until COVID-19 goes into remission is pray to the God of miracles.

by Jay Mankus

The Day that Changed My Life

Prior to October 14th, 1985, I was a struggling teenager, emotionally unstable and immature. I guess you can say I was mentally soft and weak, needing to toughen up so that I could reach my full potential as an athlete. After wasting my first two years of high school, somewhere between carefree, lazy and inconsistent, I was determined to be great. This desire resulted in working out for the first time in addition to running and swimming 3 to 5 days a week. While on vacation in Maine for a month, I trained in the mountains, pushing myself to the limits like a drill sergeant.

While being reviled and insulted, He did not revile or insult in return; while suffering, He made no threats [of vengeance], but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges fairly, 1 Peter 2:23.

On this particular Columbus Day, I was running in a cross country race at Banning Park, located between Newark and Wilmington, Delaware. Earlier in the month, I helped Concord’s team upset the #1 ranked team in the state. Since the course at Banning was only 2.1 miles at that time, I felt like this was my best chance to win a race. The only problem is four of my teammates went on to become high school all-Americans. I could keep up for 2 miles, but the final 1.1 miles or 5K I fell off the pace. At the mile mark, I was in the lead pack as we approached the woods. Fallen leaves covered the hole that twisted my ankle, shattered my dreams and ended my season.

He personally carried our sins in His body on the cross [willingly offering Himself on it, as on an altar of sacrifice], so that we might die to sin [becoming immune from the penalty and power of sin] and live for righteousness; for by His wounds you [who believe] have been healed. 25 For you were continually wandering like [so many] sheep, but now you have come back to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls, 1 Peter 2:24-25.

Following reconstruction surgery on my ankle, I watched from the sidelines as my teammates lost the state title to Sales by 7 points. I did everything in my power to return for my senior year and perhaps earn a state title, only to burn myself out, going out too fast. After surgery, my ankle was protected by a brace that I wore into college. During the first cross country season following surgery, I heavily taped my ankle as extreme pressure resulted in bleeding race after race. The bleeding stopped a year later, but my scar remains today. While October 14th, 1985 did change my life, the J-shaped scar on my ankle reminds me of the pain Jesus endured on the cross. Just as the prophet Isaiah once said, “by His wounds we are healed.”

by Jay Mankus

The Final Season

In 1983 I was an incoming high school freshman eager to participate in a fall sport.  At 100 pounds and five feet tall, I was too small for football.  Concord’s soccer team had just won a state title so nearly one hundred boys tried out to make this team.  Fortunately, our paper boy was a runner, making the sports section of Wilmington’s News Journal after each race.  When I found out the cross country team didn’t cut anyone, I started my first of what I thought would be four seasons.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it, 1 Corinthians 9:24.

While running 5-8 miles a day in the heat wasn’t initially appealing, the individuals on Concord High’s cross country team welcomed me like I was joining a new family.  The aches and pains of running were soothed by loving teammates who accepted me despite my size and stuttering.  As the youngest child of three whose sisters were both in college as I entered high school, cross country quickly became my extended family, caring for one another before and after each race.  What other sport do you find complete strangers hugging one another after a race or holding someone up after collapsing at the finish line so they don’t cramp up.

Someone said to Him, “Look! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside asking to speak to You.” 48 But Jesus replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples [and all His other followers], He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven [by believing in Me, and following Me] is My brother and sister and mother,” Matthew 12:48-50.

This encouraging environment has made me an advocate for cross country.  While serving as a youth pastor in Indiana, I spent Saturday’s cheering on teenagers from my church.  As a former runner, I was able to counsel the disappointed and motivate others to continue to improve.  Running distances from 2.1 to 3.1 miles requires trial and error, going out at various paces to determine the best strategy for each course.  The elite often use large invitationals as throw away races to see how fast they can go out before they die, falling way off the pace.  While watching the Corinthian Games, similar to the Olympics, the apostle Paul writes about mental toughness, pushing your body to the limit to reach your full potential in the passage below.

Now every athlete who [goes into training and] competes in the games is disciplined and exercises self-control in all things. They do it to win a crown that withers, but we [do it to receive] an imperishable [crown that cannot wither]. 26 Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. 27 But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service], 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.

In my final year of teaching, I was fortunate enough to coach my two boys at Red Lion.  The previous coach set up a running club three days a week for elementary students to go along with coaching the junior high team.  This allowed Daniel to run with his older brother James., creating a competitive atmosphere.  Recognizing where I was as a runner at this age, I implemented fun days to keep the casual runner interested, giving 8th graders input to choose a fun practice each week.  Meanwhile, I pushed eager runners toward qualifying for the Yes Athletics National Championships as the East Regional was held an hour south of our school.  Over a 3 year period, I drove runners to nationals at Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.  This experience enabled students to compete against the best runners in the country.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, Hebrews 12:1-2.

Over the past 7 years, I have been a cross country parent, watching my two sons run for St. George’s.  Since my daughter Lydia has fallen in love with volleyball, Daniel’s senior year will be my final season attending Cross Country races.  Before I become a volleyball groupie, the reality of saying goodbye to cross country will be sad.  However, I do have a unique opportunity to run in a 5K prior to this fall’s county race known as the Old Timers Race.  Unfortunately, this requires getting into shape and running in the heat.  I haven’t started training yet, but as Daniel’s first race approaches this week, running to various mile marks with serve as  a warm up.  There is an old saying that states “Father Time remains undefeated.”  Yet, God has given me one final season to seize each day that I am blessed to watch my son Daniel complete.

by Jay Mankus

 

Run for Your Life

The running of the bulls is an annual event that dates back to the 14th century.  This tradition originated from the need to transport bulls from the offsite livestock enclosures to the bull fighting ring within Spanish cities.  The Running of the Bulls was made famous outside of Spain in 1926 when Ernest Hemingway released The Sun Also Rises.  This novel details this July 7th summer festival where six to ten calves are released behind individuals running for their lives through enclosed streets.

They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had taken security (bail) from Jason and the others, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived, they entered the Jewish synagogue, Acts 17:8-10.

As a first century missionary, the apostle Paul made a habit of running for his life.  Each trip began at a local synagogue, going through the Old Testament to reveal Jesus as the promised Messiah.  Most of these discussions were civil until some of his listeners converted to Christianity.  These spiritual decisions ignited spirits of anger, envy and jealousy, stirring up anti-Christian mobs.  In the passage above, Paul and Silas fled Thessalonica in darkness.  Meanwhile, in the passage below, Paul was escorted to a ship, sailing away as far as possible from harm.

But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God [concerning eternal salvation through faith in Christ] had also been preached by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and disturbing the crowds. 14 So at that time the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go as far as the sea; but Silas and Timothy remained there [at Berea]. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens; and [after] receiving instructions [from Paul] for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible, they left, Acts 17:13-15.

Unfortunately, the process of running for your life sometimes involves turning your back on God.  Jonah refused God’s calling to Nineveh, sailing away in the complete opposite direction until a storm forced his return into a whale which escorted this runner back on track.  When I lost my teaching job of ten years, I ran around in circles for nearly two years before landing at Amazon.  Now that I am comfortable after seven years, perhaps it’s time to run for my life, escaping this comfort zone for a new adventure or challenge.  As I listen for God’s still voice, I must be open to run with perseverance just as Hebrews 12:1 suggests.

by Jay Mankus

 

Starting a New Life

Perspective gives parents the right impression of what to expect in the future.  Unfortunately, the early years of any marriage is filled with trial and error.  As I look back on the first few years of raising my oldest son James, I was out of my element.  I don’t do well around crying babies.  After screaming for an hour or so in his crib, Leanne or I would drive around the block a few times until James fell back to sleep.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed or embarrassed, Genesis 2:24-25.

As the years passed, sports filled up much of out time, going to baseball games, cross country races, golf matches and track meets.  Through the years, I learned that James was motivated by awards, food and money.  After achieving an agreed upon goal, the entire family went out to dinner to celebrate this accomplishment.  This tradition continues today, often going to Buffalo Wild Wings and our favorite Chinese restaurant.  However, after tonight, James will start a new life with his wife to be Emma.

Husbands, love your wives [seek the highest good for her and surround her with a caring, unselfish love], just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify the church, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word [of God], 27 so that [in turn] He might present the church to Himself in glorious splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy [set apart for God] and blameless. 28 Even so husbands should and are morally obligated to love their own wives as [being in a sense] their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself, Ephesians 5:25-28.

The covenant of marriage was first introduced to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The apostle Paul builds upon this concept in a letter to the church at Ephesus.  Men are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  In a letter to Corinth, Paul uses the term charity.  The only way human beings can love one another is through the Holy Spirit.  This spiritual presence is only available to those who enter into a personal relationship with God.  Thus, if any of you are considering starting a new life, don’t forget to invite Jesus along the way.

by Jay Mankus

The Making of a Prodigy or A Waste of Time?

Prodigy’s are especially young individuals, endowed with exceptional abilities, talents and qualities.  When coaches, parents or teachers discover this gift, young people are often pushed to see how good or great they can be.  In some cases adults use these special children as pawns, attempting to live their lives through them.  If an endeavor results in a full college scholarship after years of dedication, practice and persistent is rewarded.  Yet; if these prodigy’s get burned out, lose interest or start to hate the sport they once loved, perhaps these years were a waste of time.

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established, Proverbs 16:3.

As a former coach, I have seen my share of amazing athletes.  After spending three consecutive years at cross country nationals, I began to see key ingredients in becoming an elite runner.  Through conversations with other coaches and parents, most of the national champions joined a local running club early, some starting at the age of 6.  Meanwhile, as a high school golf coach, a similar connection can be made.  Competition, dedication to practice and a swing coach has resulted in one of the strongest classes of female golfers to come out of the state of Delaware.  I won’t be surprised if a few of these young women end playing on the LPGA tour after college.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, Colossians 3:23.

After I moved back to Delaware two decades ago, a friend gave me the phone number of Max Lucado’s editor.  I spent nearly thirty minutes asking a series of question, wanting to know what it takes to become a professor writer.  After sharing a brief summary of his road to success, one comment stuck out during our conversation.  “If you are going to take this seriously, you need to write full time for seven years to have any chance at getting recognized.”  This year marks my 7th year as an amateur screen writer.  After I submit my two scripts for the 2019 Nicholls Contest by the May 1st deadline, I won’t hear the results until July.  Nonetheless, I have taken a chance, invested hundreds of hours and have become vulnerable to rejection to pursue another dream.  Only time will tell if my attempt at becoming a prodigy writer will result in success or failure.

by Jay Mankus

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