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Embrace Holy Fervor

Since I wasn’t a good student early on in high school, I poured my heart and soul into sports. Whether I was running cross country, swimming, playing baseball or golf, I developed a fervor for greatness. I may have not been the most athletic and physically gifted individual, but I wanted to win more than most of my peers. While I didn’t have much of a social life, I didn’t care as long as I improved daily.

But the just shall live by faith [My righteous servant shall live [f]by his conviction respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, and holy fervor born of faith and conjoined with it]; and if he draws back and shrinks in fear, My soul has no delight or pleasure in him, Hebrews 10:38.

This is the type of passion the Bible refers to in the passage above. Faith provides a similar adrenaline rush that I experienced as an athlete. However, this conviction comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than seek to become a winner in a competition, faith is a driving force to deepen my personal relationship with Jesus. When God becomes who you seek to delight, holy fervor is conceived.

A time will come, however, indeed it is already here, when the true (genuine) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth (reality); for the Father is seeking just such people as these as His worshipers. 24 God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality), John 4:23-24.

During a conversation with a Samaritan woman, Jesus reveals how a desire for truth can give birth to holy fervor. Despite the flaws in this recently divorced woman’s life, a fire began to burn deep within her heart as Jesus spoke. This is the same sensation I experienced as a freshman in college when I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to make Jesus the Lord of my life. Regardless of what happens this holiday season, make room for Jesus so that you may embrace holy fervor.

by Jay Mankus

When Death Lost It’s Grip on Me

If you have ever walked through a Haunted House or Forest, one of the methods used to inflict fear is by being grabbed by an unseen hand. Part of this role play often involves taking and keeping a firm hold of your arm or leg without warning. Despite how scared you may be during this experience, it is only temporary. In the passage below, the apostle Paul explains why and when fear of death lost it’s grip on human beings.

For this perishable [part of us] must put on the imperishable [nature], and this mortal [part of us, this nature that is capable of dying] must put on immortality (freedom from death). 54 And when this perishable puts on the imperishable and this that was capable of dying puts on freedom from death, then shall be fulfilled the Scripture that says, Death is swallowed up (utterly vanquished [h]forever) in and unto victory, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54.

My junior high years were the lowest in my life. Despite attending church every Sunday, I struggled with depression daily. In my darkest days, I was suicidal, thinking of ways to end my life. Little did I know that God began to send loving Christians and mentors into my life to keep me alive. These individuals encouraged me to seek God not in a religious manner, but pursue a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Now sin is the sting of death, and sin exercises its power [i][upon the soul] through [j][the abuse of] the Law. 57 But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory [making us conquerors] through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be firm (steadfast), immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord [always being superior, excelling, doing more than enough in the service of the Lord], knowing and being continually aware that your labor in the Lord is not futile [it is never wasted or to no purpose], 1 Corinthians 15:56-58.

I resisted these offers until a nervous breakdown during a cross country practice. When a girl that I liked messed with my mind, this was the last straw before I lost complete control. Shortly after this experience, I was invited to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event. Following an inspirational speech my Skip Wilkins on December 4th, 1984, I gave my life to Jesus, Romans 10:9-10. The moment I made this decision, death lost it’s grip on me, 1 John 5:13.

by Jay Mankus

The Desire to Become Part of a Greater Cause

I’m the youngest of three with two older sisters, four and five years apart. Because of this age difference, I wasn’t big enough to be included in our neighborhood games. I spent the first 10 years of my life sitting on the sidelines, watching everyone else have fun. When my father got transferred to Delaware, most of the new neighborhood was my age. Despite a severe speech impediment, I found solace in playing board games, sports and video games with kids who became like a second family.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth, Acts 1:8.

When high school arrived, I joined a sport that I was told no one ever gets cut, Cross Country. Like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, I became a running fool. While the actual act of running was brutally hard, the friends that I made during these 4 years was unlike anything I have ever experienced. One of my favorite memories was going on a long bus ride to Killens Pond State Park to compete in my first ever running invitational. To represent Concord and run for my teammates made me feel part of a greater cause for the first time in my life.

Now there are distinctive varieties and distributions of endowments (gifts, [a]extraordinary powers distinguishing certain Christians, due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit) and they vary, but the [Holy] Spirit remains the same. And there are distinctive varieties of service and ministration, but it is the same Lord [Who is served]. And there are distinctive varieties of operation [of working to accomplish things], but it is the same God Who inspires and energizes them all in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the [Holy] Spirit [the evidence, the spiritual illumination of the Spirit] for good and profit, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.

After my sophomore year of college, I was invited to attend a church service where one of my mentors was speaking. Little did I know that joining this small service of about 20 people, I felt an instant special connection with this church body. Despite meeting inside the entrance of a local high school for 2 years, I felt called to become baptized and to start the process of joining Cornerstone Church. This wasn’t just a neighborhood or a school group, but a body of believers that allowed me to become part of a greater cause to share the love of Jesus throughout Delaware. May you find the same joy that I found in my earlier years.

by Jay Mankus

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

 

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