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Find Your Passion and Pursue It

When I was in high school, Michael W. Smith was the top Christian artist in the nation. Songs like Go West Young Man, Secret Ambition and Place in this World inspired me to start thinking about the future. While in college at the University of Delaware, I was torn between becoming a golf course architect and serving as a youth pastor. Following a dual internship in Cleveland, Ohio, I discovered my true passion and began to pursue it.

Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own, Philippians 3:12.

After working as an Inner City Workcamp Coordinator and Youth Director at a Methodist Church, I wasn’t sure about how to build a ministry. Following a visit to a Youth Ministry Trade School, a renewed passion was conceived as this training gave me the knowledge and vision to succeed. However, in any ministry there are big egos with a tendency for control and power which make maintaining healthy relationships difficult.

I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward, Philippians 3:13-14.

Over the years I’ve learned that desires and passions come and go. What you believe and think about your role in life today may change as the situations around you fluctuate. Just as societies and the world evolves, it’s important to re-evaluate where you want to go and what you want to do. Once you discover your spiritual gifts and unleash the desires within your heart, pursue God’s will as you seize each day.

by Jay Mankus

Surrounded by Trouble

The older you become, the degree of trouble often intensifies. As a child, you may get your hand caught in the cookie jar. As adolescence arrives, someone in your neighborhood may catch you drinking, smoking or cursing out loud. If you are fortunate enough to attend college, you may choose to skip some classes or get involved into an inappropriate relationship. Like his 1989 song, Michael W. Smith claims that we are always living and learning, shaped by the trouble that surrounds us.

Do not let your hearts be troubled (distressed, agitated). You believe in and adhere to and trust in and rely on God; believe in and adhere to and trust in and rely also on Me, John 14:1.

When your future is in jeopardy, trouble is fueled by anxiety, concern, and fear. The context of the passage above occurs during the Passion Week, sometime after Palm Sunday and before Jesus’ arrest. John 14 begins immediately after Jesus predicts his future death in John 13:38. Apparently, Jesus saw panic in his disciples eyes or sensed a spirit of hopelessness. Therefore, when your heart is troubled, believe and trust in the Lord, Proverbs 3:5-6.

Casting the ]whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully. Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [[n fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour. Withstand him; be firm in faith [against his onset—rooted, established, strong, immovable, and determined], knowing that the same (identical) sufferings are appointed to your brotherhood (the whole body of Christians) throughout the world, 1 Peter 5:7-9.

In the passage above, one of Jesus’ disciples suggests that trouble can be inflicted by invisible spiritual forces. Peter uses the analogy of a predator seeking out a weak or wounded prey, waiting for the right time to go in for the kill. Perhaps, Peter is eluding to the time he caved to peer pressure by denying to know Jesus three times in public. Sinful human beings will never escape trouble. However, as individuals learn to grow and mature, look for the way out of any temptation before all hope is lost, 1 Corinthians 10:13.

by Jay Mankus

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

Catching Your Dreams

As a former athlete, I understand the concept of setting goals.  At the beginning of each season, I would use a notecard to write down my expectations.  Whether I was running, swimming or playing golf, I tried to raise the bar higher and higher each time I set a personal record.  The only hard part about setting a score or time to beat, eventually you reach a saturation point.  For example, I haven’t bested 69 for 18 holes in golf since my junior year of high school.  Meanwhile, I never came close to breaking 17 minutes for a 5K race after doing it once as a senior.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up, Galatians 6:9.

I guess what I am trying to say is that as an adult, I spend most of my time chasing dreams instead of actually catching them.  There is an old saying that refers to being close.  This idiom claims that being close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  If you want to be the best, losing over and over again to someone slightly better is frustrating.  When you get closer and closer to catching a dream, hope is conceived, turning doubters into believers.  Yet, if progress is never achieved, chasing dreams can become like a dog attempting to catch their own tail.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him, James 1:12.

The other night I watched the film I Can Only Imagined.  Bart Millard grew up in a dysfunctional family made worse when his mother refused to take Bart with her after moving out.  Left to his abusive father, Bart wanted to chase and catch dreams.  However, the negativity spewed by Bart’s dad bombarded his mind, leaving behind emotional, physical and spiritual scars.  Despite these obstacles, Bart traveled the country with a Christian group called Mercy Me attempting to follow in the footsteps of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.  Yet, it took cancer to inflict his father and redemption to transform his heart before the Lord gave Bart the words to I can only image.  Upon releasing this single on a 1999 album, the Worship Project, Bart finally caught his dream.  May Bart Millard‘s perseverance inspire you to catch your own dreams.

by Jay Mankus

 

Love With Your Life

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 90 years old this week if he wasn’t murdered on April 4th 1968.  To honor his memory, Martin Luther King Day was first observed in 1986.  Four years later, Wyoming became the first state in the union to pass legislation to make Martin Luther King Day a legal holiday.  While Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech overshadows his 14 years as a civil rights leader, Martin Luther taught Americans how to love with your life.

Let all that you do be done in love, 1 Corinthians 16:14.

On their 1992 album Free At Last, DC Talk pays homage to Dr. King.  This group refers to spiritual slavery, when an individual is held captive by an addiction, unable to break free until Jesus enters their life.  Dr. King fought for a day when people were judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.  Meanwhile, these Christians musicians longed for a day when forgiveness, grace and mercy reconciled their broken relationship with God.  One of the songs on Free At Last, Luv is a Verb, drives home the point that love is meant to be lived out.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love, 1 John 4:8.

The concept of love inspired a hit song by a relatively new artist called Hollyn.  Hollyn received notoriety for her appearance on American Idol.  Two years later, Gotee Records released One Way Conversations in 2017.  With the help of Toby Mac, Hollyn is a raising star who has followed in his footsteps.  Although the title is different, Love with Your Life illustrates that love isn’t love until you demonstrate it by caring for others.  Similar to Michael W’ Smith’s song Give It Away, love wasn’t put in your heart to stay.  The best example, Jesus, gave his life away by dying for you and me.  Go and do your best to love others with your life.

by Jay Mankus

 

Going Back to Where You First Got Stuck

Sometimes authors use their life experiences and settings for a source of inspiration.  Prior to writing the Shack which was first published in 2007, William P. Young was an office manager and hotel night clerk.  These unusual hours provided an opportunity for William to pour out his heart and soul into writing.  Young’s resolve was rewarded with a book and a 2017 movie with the same name.  One of my favorite lines in this film occurs during a conversation between Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer.  A troubled father has an encounter with God when the Lord reveals, “Mack this is where you first got stuck.”

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken, Psalm 34:17-20.

To avoid a spoiler alert, I’ll let everyone who hasn’t seen the Shack to watch for yourself.  In the meantime, this sound byte reveals an important truth about life, at some point everyone get’s stuck.  Like a difficult math equation, it may take an extended period of time to solve this problem.  How you respond to this roadblock will impact your personal growth.  Those who give up, quit or walk away without discovering the answer will leave empty.  Anyone who persists, searches and receives the wisdom to obtain the correct answer will be able to move on, to live and learn.

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you, 1 Peter 5:7.

In 1988, Christian Icon Michael W. Smith released i 2 Eye.  One of the hit songs from this album is Live and Learn.  The lyrics refers to where human beings first got stuck, tempted by forbidden fruit.  Prior to this day, there was no sin, suffering or pain.  Unfortunately, Adam and Eve’s willful act of disobedience has planted seeds of darkness into human hearts ever since.  Thus, Michael W. Smith writes about the sowing principle, sowing fields of stubbornness in his life.  Depending upon your current life, you may be your own worst enemy, self destructing on your own.  Others may still be stuck from a tragic event from your past, unable to let go of the pain.  Whatever your situation, perhaps its time to find a shack, retreat and spend time with God alone so that you can grow and mature from the place where you first got stuck.

by Jay Mankus

It’s Not a Matter of If… But When!

Back in 1991, Michael W. Smith sang about finding his Place in the World.  Sure, its a noble effort, yet the pessimistic didn’t want to get their hopes up only to be disappointed once again.  As for me, this concept was like a dream that didn’t seem achievable until I began to open up the Bible.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. – Psalm 143:10

According to King David, discerning God’s will isn’t a matter of if, but when.  Prepared by countless hours in the fields as a shepherd, trusting the Lord was a daily occurrence providing grass for the herd, protection from wild animals and daily bread to survive.  Like a spiritual antenna, David learned to follow the Spirit of the living God, leading him to solid ground.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2

Although I don’t have the faith of David, I am making progress, trusting that the work God began in me will be carried on to completion, Philippians 1:6.  Sure, I’ve had my doubts along the way and periods of darkness, unaware of my next step in life.  Even still, my soul finds comfort in writing as I try to find my place in this world.  I’m not there yet, but it’s not a matter of if, but when.

by Jay Mankus

Should the Cross Be Vacated or Kept as a Reminder?

The author of the Old Rugged Cross went through his own trying experience prior to completing this classic hymn.  In the midst of despair, George Bernard reflected on the pain Jesus endured while on a cross that initial Good Friday.  Nearing the end of the second great awakening in America, Bernard devoted himself to Bible reading, prayer and revival services.  This journey led him to the conclusion, “the cross is the heart of the gospel message.”

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts, Deuteronomy 6:6.

One hundred and two years later, the cross has taken on many shapes and forms.  Hollywood has their Cross of Gold which inspired Michael W. Smith’s 1993 song.  Churches have stations of the cross, often highlighted by magnificent stain glass windows around the entire sanctuary.  Theologians have their own views about an empty cross, Jesus on the cross and whether or not the cross is an idol placed at the center of most altars.  All this debate makes me wonder, should the cross be vacated or kept as a reminder?

Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.   Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, Deuteronomy 6:7-9.

When teaching the Israelites about God’s commandments, Moses recognized the need to create symbols so that people don’t forget about God.  These practices should involve things which invoke conversation, especially in the main meeting room within Christian homes.  Thus, whether you are entering, exiting or simply taking a look around, individuals should be challenged to discuss spiritual matters.  In view of this, I must admit the answer is clear regardless of what the world may think.  Despite the offensive nature of the cross and any controversy it may bring up, the Old Rugged Cross should continue to be a beacon of light and source of hope for the lost, dying and those seeking salvation.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

Finding The Real You

Whether you enter a high school as a parent, visit a college with your child or observe your own workplace, people are trying so hard to fit in that it is easy to forget the real you.  Thinking they aren’t good enough on their own to be accepted by their peers, individuals seek to emulate Hollywood stars and pop culture to find approval.  Behind this mask, a heart, soul and mind wrestle between reality and the facade you are living.  This suppression blinds many youth from discovering the real you, often leaving a trail of remorse, regret and shame.

History isn’t exempt from this dilemma as one of the Bible’s greatest characters struggled with his own self image.  According to Genesis 25:27-28, Jacob was a mama’s boy early on.  Not blessed with the physical talents of his twin brother, Jacob was quiet, staying at home afraid to compete against the other boys his age.  Fearful of being exposed as a wimp, Jacob became a humble servant around the house, doing whatever his mother told him.  When the time came from receiving the birthrate from his father Isaac, Genesis 27, Jacob felt like he had to dress, look and smell like Esau to earn dad’s blessing.  Several thousand years later, teenagers across the country find themselves in Jacob’s shoes.

While speaking to Jesus in the dark, John 3:1-9, Nicodemus was searching for the meaning of life, knowing deep down in his heart that following the laws of the Pharisees wasn’t the answer.  Privy to the truth, the disciples of Jesus receive greater insight in Matthew 16:24-27 to eternal life.  The secret to finding the real you is through surrender.  As Michael W. Smith once sang about, “Love isn’t love until you give it away!”  Despite being a paraphrased version of Jesus’ words, the moment you yield your body as a life offering to the Lord of Creation, Romans 12:1-2, the Holy Spirit unveils the real you in the form of God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.  Let the words of scripture guide you toward the path of righteousness, Psalm 119:105.

by Jay Mankus

Is the Cross an Idol?

For the first half of my life, I always attended denominations where the cross was the center piece of the worship center and service.  As a catholic through my teenage years, the stations of the cross served as magnificent stain glass windows, stretching from one side of the building to the other.  These images were a weekly reminder of the Passion Week, Jesus’ final week on earth leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.  As I began to ponder the meaning of the cross, Michael W. Smith came out with the popular hit, Cross of Gold, adding another perspective to my thought process.

However, when I reached my twenties, I began to visit several congregations who took Exodus 20:4 literally.  The second of the 10 commandments, the Lord makes a distinction between the first, having no other god and second command, creating or establishing objects of worship that replace God.  In place of a cross, musicians, the pulpit and speakers communicating the Word of God were the focal point of worship.  Making a transition to a church which did not have a cross hanging on the back wall behind the altar was definitely an adjustment.

Since my wife and I spent the first 18 months of our marriage living a few miles from Willow Creek, located in South Barrington, Illinois, I embraced this journey to discover if the cross is an idol.  Experiencing Community, a mid week service for believers, I was blessed to gather with thousands of other Christians.  The service was like a mini-concert with 30 minutes of singing, an infomercial transition to the pastor’s message, usually by John Ortberg with Bill Hybels filling in to cast a vision for the future of the church.  This experience taught me you don’t have to wear to cross share your faith.  While the cross may be a reminder, the condition of your heart is what God is truly concerned with, Luke 6:45.

In my thirties, I faced another theological dilemma as a High School Bible teacher and coach.  Does a Christian school have to possess a cross within their logo?  As a former golf professional with 3 years of experience in apparel, I worked with a seamstress to create a logo for our new golf uniforms.  The final proof was a red paw print of a lion.  Whenever I traveled, the logo was a conversational piece, often confused with several colleges providing an opportunity to correct their assumption and share about my school.  Since the cross offends people or makes others feel uncomfortable, I felt excluding the cross was the right decision until a new athletic director placed a cross inside the paw on all team uniforms.

In closing, I think the cross can be an idol, especially for those who attempt to profit off of it.  However, for me, the cross is similar to Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  I believe the cross is a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice, sin offering and victory over death, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.  Like the lyrics within Michael W. Smith’s song, “the cross means a whole lot more to me.”  May you test everything I have said, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 and make your on conclusion based upon Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:12, figuring things out on your own.  Enjoy the journey!

by Jay Mankus

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