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So You Think That You are in Control?

As a struggling perfectionist, I like to think that I can accomplish whatever I set my heart and mind on. Although I am blessed to have succeeded in achieving many of my goals in life, the older I become, the more I seem to experience failure. With defeat comes doubt, making the idea of victory a foreign concept. Meanwhile, just when I think I am heading in the right direction, God throws me a curve. While fasting and praying this week, it’s safe to say that I am not in control.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever, 1 Corinthians 9:24-25.

In the passage above, the apostle Paul uses a sports analogy, referencing the Corinthians Games, a famous Track & Field competition. The only problem with athletics is the finality of it all as there is only one winner. Everyone else who falls short ends up a loser, often disappointed by the outcome. In a world of over 7 billion inhabitants, there is always some better than you, eventually taking your championship, crown or title. No matter how hard you train, you can’t control the determination of someone else who wants it more than you.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize, 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

Boxers and runners daily seek to push their bodies to the limits. This desire enables the world’s greatest athletes to break records every year. Yet, you can only go so far as the human flesh has it’s breaking point. In the passage above, the apostle Paul adds a spiritual element to this discussion. This comes to a climax in another letter, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where Paul realizes, “in my weakness Christ is strongest.” Therefore, as the spiritually mature acknowledge that they are not in control, God’s power will fall upon you.

by Jay Mankus

When the Physical Interferes with The Spiritual

Whenever an individual makes a decision to fast for a set period of time, the Evil One will attempt to play tricks with your mind. Instead of concentrating and focusing on the inspiration for your fast, the Devil can make believers miserable until their fast is finally broken. In the passage below, Jesus reveals three ways Christians are tempted: physically, mentally and spiritually.

Then Jesus was led (guided) by the [Holy] Spirit into the wilderness (desert) to be tempted (tested and tried) by the devil. And He went without food for forty days and forty nights, and later He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, If You are God’s Son, command these stones to be made [loaves of] bread. But He replied, It has been written, Man shall not live and be upheld and sustained by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God, Matthew 4:1-4.

Prior to beginning his earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus to withdraw into the wilderness for forty days. Hunger pains is the first temptation Jesus faced, offered food by the Devil. Thus, whenever you do decide to fast, spend time reading and studying the Bible in place of your regularly scheduled meal. This should help overcome physical cravings for food. At least for the first day or two.

And going a little farther, He threw Himself upon the ground on His face and prayed saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will [not what I desire], but as You will and desire. 40 And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, What! Are you so utterly unable to stay awake and keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 All of you must keep awake (give strict attention, be cautious and active) and watch and pray, that you may not come into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak, Matthew 26:39-41.

The night before Jesus was betrayed, Jesus withdrew with his disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus urged his disciples to watch and pray so that they wouldn’t be ensnared by temptation. Despite this plea. Jesus found his disciples sleeping. Jesus used this failure as a teachable moment, “the Spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” As I begin the second day of my Esther Fast, physical desires are interfering with the spiritual. Yet, if I follow Jesus’ advice in Matthew 4:1-11, the Spirit can and will prevail.

by Jay Mankus

God Knows the Right Time to Turn a Bad Situation Around

Every January, several churches across the United States participate in some sort of a fast to begin the new year. Some focus on a Daniel Fast where members of congregations eat fruits and vegetables, drink water and pray to draw near to God. Others observe a strict fast for a week, weeks or entire month, praying for direction, vision and confirming God’s will. In the Old Testament, queen Esther asks members of the Jewish community to fast and pray for her so that she will receive the right words to communicate to the king.

Then Mordecai told them to return this answer to Esther, Do not flatter yourself that you shall escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall arise for the Jews from elsewhere, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion? 15 Then Esther told them to give this answer to Mordecai, 16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me; and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I also and my maids will fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish, Esther 4:13-16.

Esther receives an answer to prayer, called to throw a banquet for the king and Haman. However, just as she is about to ask the king what she wants, Esther loses her train of thought. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit told her that the timing was not right. While stalling, waiting for a word from the Lord, Esther waits to reveal her concern one more day, deciding to throw another banquet tomorrow. While slightly puzzled, the king accepts Esther’s request. While unnamed people continued to fast and pray, the Lord used insomnia to keep the king up late that night. As a servant reads accounts to the king, he learns about an unrewarded act by Mordecai. This story turned a bad situation around at the right time.

On the third day [of the fast] Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the royal or inner court of the king’s palace opposite his [throne room]. The king was sitting on his throne, facing the main entrance of the palace. And when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight, and he held out to [her] the golden scepter that was in his hand. So Esther drew near and touched the tip of the scepter. Then the king said to her, What will you have, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of the kingdom. And Esther said, If it seems good to the king, let the king and Haman come this day to the dinner that I have prepared for the king, Esther 5:1-4.

For such a time is this is one of the most quoted passages from the Old Testament. Yet, if it wasn’t for this three day fast, where depressed souls poured out their hearts to God in prayer, this story of the Bible probably doesn’t happen. There is a crucial lesson to learn from this biblical account. If you ever find yourself stuck in a bad situation, fasting and prayer can turn your situation around. However, you need to call upon others, to form a concert of prayer with an expectation that God knows the right time to turn your situation around. What are you waiting for? The beginning of 2020 is as good of a time as any to fast and pray for God’s calling.

by Jay Mankus

When You Are Powerless to Act… Try a Different Kind of Fast (the Esther Fast)

Every January fitness centers across the country are filled with individuals trying to recover from poor diets, a lack of exercise or extra weight that seems impossible to shed. By the end of winter, many who fail to see any change, progress or signs of transformation give up on their New Year Resolutions. Meanwhile, Christians who develop bad spiritual habits fight a similar battle. When reading the Bible becomes rare, praying feels more like a chore or getting up for worship doesn’t happen, you can reach a state where you feel powerless to act.

Then Mordecai told them to return this answer to Esther, Do not flatter yourself that you shall escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance shall arise for the Jews from elsewhere, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this and for this very occasion? – Esther 4:13-14

There are several examples in the Bible where broken hearted individuals, who felt powerless to act, began to fast and pray for God to intervene. Unfortunately, sometimes I find myself so out of shape spiritually that I don’t have the commitment, focus and strength to follow in the footsteps of Daniel, Nehemiah and Moses. Yet, there is another option. The Book of Esther provides a different kind of fast. Instead of fasting and praying quietly on your own, Esther urges every Jew to fast for three days for her. The goal of this fast was to provide Esther with the words needed to persuade King Ahasuerus to overturn Haman’s decree to kill all the Jews.

Then Esther told them to give this answer to Mordecai, 16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me; and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I also and my maids will fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish. 17 So Mordecai went away and did all that Esther had commanded him, Esther 4:15-17.

This was a life or death matter. From Esther’s perspective, she wasn’t able to fast, not wanting to insult the king by not eating the food prepared for her each day. Thus, Esther was forced to rely on God’s people to intervene, praying for a miracle, the right words to say or justice to prevail. Imagine if local churches, communities and followers of Christ began Esther Fasts each week, focusing on a needy cause, person or soul? When you are powerless to act, don’t be afraid to reach out for help by requesting others to fast and pray for you. I pray that the concept of a Esther Fast will take root in 2020, awakening souls, renewing faith and energizing the body of Christ.

by Jay Mankus

The Cleansing

A decade old health poll revealed that 31% of Americans do not shower every day.  The same study showed 65% bath and or shower daily with 4% showering more than once a day.  Other cultures such as Europe find it socially acceptable to shower 3 to 4 times a week.  The purpose of cleansing is to disinfect, freshen up and sanitize human bodies.  The cooler than climate, the less this may be needed.  However, depending upon your degree of perspiration, you may need to shower twice a day to avoid offending your family with a fowl body odor.

And God, who knows and understands the heart, testified to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; Acts 15:8.

The Bible refers to a spiritual cleansing.  This isn’t accomplished by taking a private bath or shower.  Rather, churches perform baptisms which demonstrate a public expression of an inner faith.  According to the apostle Paul, God cleanses souls through the power of the Holy Spirit.  After someone accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, Romans 10:9-10, first century Christians immediately participated in outdoor baptism ceremonies along a nearby body of water.  Despite having clothes on at this time, Luke describes this process as hearts beings cleansed by faith.

And He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith [in Jesus], Acts 15:9.

The symbolism of baptism is God’s way of giving human beings a clean slate, a spiritual do over where souls set out on a life long journey as a new creation in Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, the sinful nature inside of us, referred to as the flesh by Paul makes it impossible to be perfect.  In a letter to the church at Rome, Paul states on several occasions “there is no one righteous, not even one,” Romans 3. Thus, after experiencing a believer’s baptism, confession, prayer and fasting serve as means to receive another spiritual cleansing.  May these spiritual disciplines become a daily habit to cleanse your heart by faith.

by Jay Mankus

No Substitute Will Do

As a former teacher, I despised planning for my days off, putting together lesson plans for a substitute.  While this replacement for a class, day or week tries their best to follow the material provided, students will do all they can to battle for a movie day or study hall.  When I returned back to the classroom, I was usually disappointed by the lack of progress that was made.  Although there are several excellent full time subs, some individuals are impossible to replace.

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed, Acts 14:23.

As an adult, I struggle to focus when I attend a church service and the senior pastor is off or out of town.  Maybe once or twice the guest speaker is just as good, but usually there is a big drop off.  When worship leaders are absent or the A team is away playing for another service, there is usually a noticeable difference.  Whenever superior talent is replaced by an alternate or reserve, these fill ins are put into a no win situation.  If surprisingly good, regulars might feel threatened.  When someone fails miserably, you will likely lose this volunteer, to avoid future embarrassment.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone, Hebrews 2:9.

These illustrations prove that no substitute will do for certain scenarios.  For example, attending church from an off campus sight or virtually on an electronic device is a growing trend.  When pastors or worship teams aren’t available, newly planted churches can participate by watching from a large screen.  If you are not careful, it’s easy to withdraw, staying home to listen to sermons and worship.  I must confess that I have fallen prey to this trap.  I rationalize my actions by listening to two to three sermons each Sunday.  Yet, when it comes to being part of a local congregation, no substitute will do.  God designed the body of Christ around imitate relationships.  Thus. getting involved means going to church, fellowshipping with others and making yourself vulnerable to God.

by Jay Mankus

Change Your World

In the first century, one man set out to change the world.  This higher calling wasn’t rushed.  Nor did this man leave anything up to chance.  Rather, Jesus waited for the appointed time prior to selecting twelve disciples to lay a foundation for change.  Dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s, Jesus kept in step with the Holy Spirit to carry out the necessary Old Testament prophecies yet to be fulfilled.  Fasting, praying, being baptized, spreading goods news about the kingdom of God, training future leaders and surrendering to authorities set the stage for the climax.  As the crucifixion of a perfect lamb was about to be laid to rest in a tomb, a resurrection cancelled the written code the moment death was conquered, Colossians 2:13-15.  This one supernatural act has changed the world forever.

 “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him, John 3:16-17.

The film Equalizer debuted In 2014, introducing a character who wanted to change the world one person at a time.  Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a retired CIA black ops operative using a local hardware store as his mission field.  When McCall sees injustices that occur within his spheres of influence, he acts immediately to accomplish the greater good.  After hours, during breaks or on the job interactions are used by Robert to develop relationships, challenging co-workers, customers and strangers to be the best you can be.  During one moving scene, Robert talks to a girl who is trapped by her pimp, unable to break free to fulfill her dream to become a singer.  Not wasting this opportunity, Robert exclaims, “change your world!”

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Sometimes when you feel the urge to make a difference in this life, its hard to know where to start.  Depending upon the atmosphere, circumstances or environment, many good intentioned individuals can become overwhelmed before ever getting started.  Thus, changing your world for the better requires a joint effort.  From a spiritual perspective, ground work must by laid through fasting and prayer.  Like the building of an ministry team, when the timing is right God will raise up leaders to fill the gaps that exist.  Yet, while you are waiting for the world to change, don’t lose heart.  Rather, let faith guide you until agents for change arrive.  May the words of this attached scene from Equalizer inspire you to change your world beginning today.

by Jay Mankus

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