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Accusations Without Reason

Over the last 23 years, more than 2000 inmates have been exonerated after being falsely accused of a crime.  Unfortunately, these individuals spent more than 10,000 years combined before the truth set them free.  This time away from family, friends and void of freedom can never be returned.  Yet, this statistic serves as a remainder to never make accusations without reason.

Do not accuse anyone for no reason— when they have done you no harm, Proverbs 3:30.

Exaggerations, lies and untruths are nothing new.  Perhaps, Solomon came to the conclusion that the sinful nature serves as a defense mechanism.  Whenever accusations, blame or indictments come your way, human nature’s first reply is usually “I didn’t do it!”  Nonetheless, DNA tests, lie detectors and modern scientific devices have been created to prevent further injustices from occurring.

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers, Proverbs 21:15.

Following their exoneration of rape charges, Duke Lacrosse players David Evans, Reade Seligmann, and Collin Finnerty have joined the Innocence Project.  This organization files appeals on behalf of individuals wrongfully punished for crimes they never committed.  When an innocent poor person can’t afford a good defense team, this group and others like it fight for the little guy.  May this blog inspire you to defend and stand up for those falsely accused in your spheres of influence.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

 

Last Rites

No one except God knows what will be your last day, meal or words.  In the case of Jesus, I guess you can say He was born to die, causing a wide range of emotions.  As the Passion Week approached, interactions with family, friends and disciples would be his last, causing the praises of Hosanna on Palm Sunday to be replaced with “Crucify Him.”

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. – Luke 19:10

Today, when doctor’s sense the end is near, Catholics call a priest to perform last rites.  Otherwise known as the sacraments of anointing the sick, if death is expected, Penance and Communion is also offered to prepare one’s soul for the afterlife.  Once complete, family members gather around to savor the remaining moments of life together.  The closest thing that I’ve ever experienced was the day my grandfather died, holding his hand one last time before his last breath.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” John 11:25.

While hanging from a cross on Good Friday, there were only two more things left on God’s agenda.  First, Jesus gave hope to one of two criminals hanging from an adjacent cross, offering Him the promise of paradise for his repentant words.  Second, as the oldest son, Jesus wanted to make sure Mary was in good hands, commanding John of Zebedee to watch after his mother.  Though no last rites where necessary for Jesus, a perfect man, Hebrews 4:14-16, Jesus gave up His spirit with one final comment, “it is finished!”

by Jay Mankus

McFarland USA

As a former cross country runner, the story of McFarland intrigued me.  While not every sport is perfect, nor will every athlete possess special memories, yet cross country is like a good book you can’t put down.  Eager to find out the conclusion, the message of the movie McFarland USA is a story book ending vanishing from America, a species on the verge of extinction.

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.

For those foreign to the term Cross Country, family is at the very essence of this sport.  Perhaps, long bus rides to attend Saturday invitationals is forced upon participants initially.  However, after the training is over, the stop watch reset and pain fades away, strangers share a common bond of sweat and tears.  Regardless of the final outcome, the journey to improve far surpasses wins and losses.  In the end, treasured memories exist, as vulnerable hearts pour out their souls to teammates, welcoming people into their lives they never dreamed of or imagined.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint, Isaiah 40:31

The most important message of McFarland USA is choosing community over a career.  When success at a small school leads to a dream job, most follow the money, looking for an easy excuse to leave.  Yet, Coach Jim White’s legacy, played by Kevin Cosner, was built as the lives of his runners began to be transformed.  While his resume did include victories, he brought hope to hopeless Latinos.  Therefore, the next time you think you’re on the verge of striking it rich, make sure you don’t run anyone over on your way out of town.  Although wealth may feed your family, becoming a part of a community enriches your soul.

by Jay Mankus

A Not So Happy Thanksgiving

For most of my days, I’ve lived a sheltered life.  However, my first job after graduating from college brought me to inner city Wilmington, Delaware as a social worker.  My eyes were opened to the homeless, poor and unfortunate.  This experience led me to serve the needy during my first Thanksgiving in Chicago, going to a homeless shelter near Cabrini Green, one of the roughest projects in Chicago.  I didn’t see any television cameras or professional football players handing out free turkeys, what I observed was a not so Happy Thanksgiving.

Everyone should get of their comfort zones once in a while to see what its like on the other side.  I’m not talking about Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places.  Rather, I think its healthy to see how little other people have so that you may begin to appreciate all the things you have accumulated in life.  Fashion, shopping and temporary pleasures blind most individuals to what’s really important: family, faith and fellowship.  Without this type of perspective, a spoiled generation will continue to whine, “what’s in it for me,” while the less fortunate have another not so Happy Thanksgiving.

Clothes, food and a place to call home is foreign to some individuals.  Though many may receive a Turkey to cook, how long will the leftovers last?  Will some have to wait til Christmas before the next act of generosity finds these helpless souls?  Therefore, as you watch the parades, gather for a feast and watch some football for dessert, don’t limit your giving to a couple of times per year.  Rather, take a look around and see who you can help so that a not so Happy Thanksgiving can turn into a very Merry Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

Where it All Began

Initially, the Bible was a gift I received after partaking in my first Holy Communion as a 2nd grader.  This white leather covered book was filled with pictures, perfect for someone that age.  As I grew older, busyness, distractions and other interests caused me to leave these pages on my shelf, collecting dust for years.  By the time junior high rolled around, the Roman Catholic Church informed me that it was time for confirmation, usually a year long process filled with a detailed checklist.  Despite receiving an adult black leather King James Bible for my hard work, I treated this book like a hotel visit, inside my nightstand.

 

As I entered high school, the priests at my parent’s church claimed that only they could properly interpret the Bible.  Sarcasm inside of me thought; “why did you give me 2 Bible’s if you knew I wouldn’t understand it?”  Turned off by men of the cloth, God placed me into an unique setting.  Although superficial at first, I began running cross country to get my name in the news paper, like our paperboy who always finished in the top 3 of each race.  The Lord used this artificial motivation to bring me into something special, like a small family of strangers who seemingly hit it off from the beginning.  Cross Country was no longer just running, it was eating meals together, spending time dreaming about life and sharing burdens to help each other to get through the day.

 

The Bible became more than just a book before each cross country race.  It all began during chapels, pre-race huddles when a senior would share an inspirational story, our coach would read a verse from the Bible about running and a captain usually closed in a short prayer.  Hearing passages like Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Galatians 5:7 transformed my perspective of the Bible.  Prior to high school cross country, the Bible was a book, too holy for me to comprehend.  Yet, when my own peers began to recount the words of the apostle Paul, an avid sports enthusiast, there was an instant connection, Romans 10:17.  By the end of my sophomore running season, I was ready to take the plunge, Romans 10:9-10, a leap of faith.  For me, this is where it all began.

by Jay Mankus

Power Bust

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This morning a Florida man woke up to an amazing reality, he was the only one to possess all 6 winning numbers to yesterday’s Power Ball Jackpot.  As a result, he is $550 million richer today, set for life and then some.  Yet, will this newly acquired wealth actually bring joy and happiness into his life?

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Based upon case studies done on former Lottery winners, only 10% experience contentment.  While  pleasure is found short term on getting out of debt and buying luxury items, most individuals aren’t ready for the responsibility and unwanted pressure put on winners by family, friends, neighbors and long lost relatives.  Like famous athletes who tend to accumulate posy followers searching for a free handout, Power Ball Winners often have to go into hiding, struggling to find peace in life.

Although I participate in Lottery, Jackpot or Power Balls that reach in excess of $100 million, God reminded me today that lucky souls can quickly turn into power busts.  The case studies I have read detail lottery winners who spend their prize money within a few years, with many filing for bankruptcy, less than 10 years after collecting their check.  Thus, if you woke up disappointed by your lack of winning numbers, don’t forget the key to spiritual success, Philippians 4:4-7.  May Jesus’ words in his sermon on the mount become etched into your heart, Matthew 6:19-24.  If not, the Power Ball might become a spiritual power bust!

by Jay Mankus

Lifting Up Friends

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On Friday, I met a good friend for coffee for nearly 2 hours.  Though I tend not to be a big talker, God compelled me to respond to his questions.  While I may not have eased his concerns, deep within my soul came an urge to lift up this friend up in prayer.  Therefore, I took a few moments before I began working, asking the Lord to bring a glimmer of hope to the uncertainty within his mind.  A few hours later, I received a text which  revealed an open door, a potential full time position and free college tuition for his 2 children.

Listening to Casting Crowns after an 11 hour shift brought this idea to light, lifting up friends in prayer,  The lyrics of their song, Prayer for a Friend is a simple remember of what asking God for something in Jesus’ name can do, John 14:13-14.  The skeptic will say, “its just a coincidence, mere chance that your friend received good news.”  Yet, this is the second time in a month that God moved in a matter of hours after meeting together.  Any way you attempt to explain this, lifting up friends in prayer is one of the few remaining solutions to turn your life or a friend’s around.

The last 2 years has been a struggle for me and my family on numerous levels.  When you and your spouse lose your dream jobs, most of your friends through a church split and are left with an ever increasing financial crunch, doubt, helplessness and frustration blew in like a spring storm.  After the bitterness, complaining and whining cease, lifting up my wife and kids in prayer is my only option.  Thus, while pain and regret still exist, its time to fall down on my knees, look up to heaven and cry out to God, lifting up to my best friend to the One who can alter our future.  In Christ alone, help is on the way, Philippians 4:13.  Call on Him today!

by Jay Mankus

Breaking Bad

A friend recently turned me onto the drama, Breaking Bad.  Debuting in 2008, this storyline features Walter White, a high school teacher who has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  Struggling to provide for his family, Walter turns to a former student, Jesse Pinkman to avoid leaving a legacy of debt.  Using his knowledge of chemistry, Mr. White starts up a methamphetamine ring to create a slush fund of savings.

Breaking bad is nothing new, a growing trend since the first act of disobedience  in Genesis 3:6.  An old testament prophet uses similar terminology in Malachi 2:10-12, referring to the broken faith of Jews, highlighted by their acts of unfaithfulness.  Even one of the holiest men who ever lived, the apostle Paul, confesses his own shortcomings in Romans 7:15, 17-18.

Northwest General Hospital

If this wasn’t enough, the United States of America is in their 5th decade of breaking bad.  Kicking God out of public education during the 1960’s opened the door for abortion on demand in the 70’s.  The establishment of cable television in the 1980’s brought immorality, pornography and sexual innuendos into many American homes.  With moral antennas lowered, the 1990’s brought brief nudity and cursing to public television through the hit series NYPD Blue.  Edgy commercials, custom malfunctions and reality shows continued to push the envelope in the 2000’s.

As my 3 children grew up in this shewed culture, I hate to see what the next 50 years will bring their kids.  If Animal Planet’s Tanked 2013 season premiere is any indication, I’m horrified.  Without any warning, in a show often geared for kids, the 2 main characters Brett and Wayde used the word jackass several times, doing a special tank for one of the main stars in the movie series.  As individuals, media outlets and nations slide down this slippery slope, there is only one who hasn’t lowered their standards, Hebrews 4:15-16.  Go against the flow, look up to Jesus and make a conscious decision to glorify God, 1 Peter 2:11-12, so that breaking bad doesn’t enter your mind!

by Jay Mankus

Living on the Dark Side

In March of 1973, Pink Floyd released their 8th album entitled The Dark Side of the Moon.  This Abbey Road production included 4 major themes: conflict, greed, mental illness and time.  Less than a decade later, the movie industry introduced another dark side through the Star Wars episodes.  Famous Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi explained this force with the following quote.  “It takes strength to resist the dark side.  Only the weak embrace it!

Jesus speaks of a spiritual dark side in John 3:19-21.  Jesus introduces this concept with a verdict, a decision which unveils a reality of life, people are attracted to darkness and evil.  Like the show Bad Boys, society tends to gravitate toward those living on the dark side.   According to Jesus, people stay on the dark side out of fear their deeds will be exposed.  Like a vampire afraid of the light, many choose to live in rebellion against authority, blazing a new trail in the dark.

Unfortunately, there are some people who have never experienced the light, from their family or spheres of influences.  Living a life without church, healthy role models and positive reinforcement, result in a Ephesians 4:18-19 lifestyle.  Not giving up on these residents, Jesus leaves a simple message for anyone willing to change their mind in John 3:21.  Reinforced by the words of 1 John 1:5-10, Jesus is waiting for many to come back home into the light, Luke 15:20!

by Jay Mankus

Look to Him, Not to Us

When you are young, its easy to take for granted the places you visit and family vacations you experience.  As an adult, I am learning to appreciate each special opportunity the Lord grants me, one day at a time.  This morning I awoke early, before the crack of dawn, reminiscing about some of the greatest worship moments I have ever encountered.

Singing One Bread, One Body prior to communion at my first Walk to Emmaus weekend still gives me goosebumps.  The Community gatherings at Willow Creek in Chicago I attended every Wednesday night for a year combined immaculate worship with the teaching of John Ortberg.  The rock concert at The Church of the Open Door in Minnesota during my youth ministry trade school in the Twin Cities gave me an idea of the intensity one must bring to fully worship God.  However, this past weekend while visiting Vineyard Christian Fellowship on Appleton Road in Landenburg, Pennsylvania, I felt as if I was in the presence of the most high.

Psalm 100:1 was the inspiration behind the song Shout to the Lord.  The following verse, Psalm 100:2 calls people to make a joyful noise.  However, there is a temptation for worship leaders to think, “look at me, don’t I have a great voice?”  As a karaoke enthusiast, I spent several summer evenings in college hanging out with friends at a local night club, often singing 4 songs prior to leaving.  When you were good, the crowd went crazy following your last line.  If you weren’t, like me, I felt like a professional golfer receiving a subtle clap of applause.  My high point of Karaoke came at the 1995 Canadian P.G.A. Tour Qualifying School on Vancouver Island hosted by Morningstar Golf Club.

After a poor opening round, shooting in the 80’s, I went to a local sports bar in Nanaimo to drown my sorrows.  Since most singers were distracted by the NHL playoffs, plastered on a dozen televisions, volunteers for Karaoke were slim.  Instead of drinking, I used singing as a vehicle for healing.  To my surprise, I nailed Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon, actually hitting every note on cue.  As I handed my microphone off, the place erupted.  Thinking the Canucks, Vancouver’s professional hockey team, had just scored a goal, I turned to the nearest set to see what I just missed, trying to catch a replay.  To my amazement, the audience was cheering for me, praising me for my performance.

The message God placed on my heart over and over this morning is “Look to Him, not to us!”  Since I haven’t had much success singing, the temptation to steal credit from God isn’t there.  However, there are other areas, venues in which I have stolen the limelight from the Lord.  David reminds us in Psalm 16:2 that apart from God we can do nothing.  Therefore, whether you are leading worship for your church, fulfilling the duties of your occupation or fanning into flame your spiritual gift, look to Jesus for strength, 2 Corinthians 12:9.  By demonstrating biblical principle, other  people will start looking to Him, not to us, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

by Jay Mankus

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