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Lord It’s Been So Long

If you’re not careful, life can be like a white water rafting trip. Once you’re on the river, there is danger lurking around every corner. Depending upon the classification and level of rapids, each one can come fast and furious. Unless there is some sort of break in between for your mind to relax, there will be no rest for the weary. Anyone who finds themselves on a wild ride may be so focused on survival that taking time to spend with God is like a blip on a radar screen.

Moses sent them to scout out the land of Canaan, and said to them, Get up this way by the South (the Negeb) and go up into the hill country,18 And see what the land is and whether the people who dwell there are strong or weak, few or many,19 And whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the cities they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 And what the land is, whether it is fat or lean, whether there is timber on it or not. And be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes, Numbers 13:17-20.

In his 1993 song, Power and Promise, Brett Williams uses the phrase, “Lord It’s Been So Long.” The context of these lyrics date back to Moses waiting to enter God’s Promise Land. In the second stanza, Williams refers back to the anguish Mary felt while her brother Lazarus was dead for 3 days. When signs of God’s power or presence is absent, invisible to your eyes, staying optimistic in times of trouble is difficult. This is where faith comes into play.

Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? Anyone who walks about in the daytime does not stumble, because he sees [by] the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks about in the night, he does stumble, because there is no light in him [the light is lacking to him]. 11 He said these things, and then added, Our friend Lazarus is at rest and sleeping; but I am going there that I may awaken him out of his sleep, John 11:9-11.

However, when basic spiritual routines like going to church, reading the Bible or praying stop occurring, God fades from your memory. While the Coronavirus may have been an excuse for some to use in 2020, it’s time to reconnect. The imagery of Luke 15:20 pictures the Lord as a concerned parent, patiently waiting on the front porch for prodigals to come home. Until lost souls come to their senses, this reconciliation is put on hold. Therefore, if you find yourself distant from God, today as good as any day to open up by saying, “Lord, it’s been so long.”

by Jay Mankus

The Day of Danger

Next to experience, repetition is one of the best modes of teaching. Perhaps, Moses was painfully aware of the human condition, so focused on the present that lessons of the past are forgotten. The Book of Deuteronomy simply means second law, serving as a constant reminder of God’s expectations. From the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-26 to the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, if important principles aren’t brushed up on, you won’t be prepared for the day of danger that will rock your world.

For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere. 13 Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place], Ephesians 6:12-13.

The context of this expression is found in what Bible scholars refers to the armor of God. As tension within the spiritual dimension builds, powers of darkness are lurking, waiting and eager to pounce upon weakened and lonely Christians, 1 Peter 5:8. This invisible danger seeks to steal spiritual truths within young and vulnerable hearts. Meanwhile, trials and tragedy are just a few of the weapons used to steal dreams and poison souls. If you think you’re exempt from the day of danger, just listen to the words of King Solomon below.

A prudent man sees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished [with suffering], Proverbs 22:3.

What’s odd about this passage is that five chapters later in Proverbs 27:12, Solomon chooses the exact same words. As one of the wisest human beings to walk the face of the earth, there must be a specific reason. Perhaps, one of his son’s was forgetful or had a short attention span. As Jesus often said, “you have ears, but do not hear.” When the timing isn’t right, crucial lessons fly by, out of sight, out of mind. Yet, when the timing is right and hearts embraces these spiritual morsels like a sponge, Christians are prepared when your day of danger arrives.

by Jay Mankus

Aokigahara Forest

Suicide Forest in Japan (Full Documentary) – YouTube

Aokigahara Forest was featured in the 2019 season debut of The Unexplained hosted by William Shatner. The first episode entitled Evil Places visited a couple of geographic locations with a troubled past. While Aokigahara translates into English as “Land of Blue Trees”, this place is known as the Japanese suicide forest. Located northwest of Mount Fuji on the Japanese island of Honshu, visitors find these 35 square meters area to be eerily silent. Remains of about a hundred suicides are removed from the Aokigahara forest every year. Despite warning signs throughout this parking lot, those who enter this forest appear to lose their minds due to the presence of demonic and evil spirits.

Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness of [mind and] heart [in gratitude] for the abundance of all [with which He had blessed you], 48 Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and in want of all things; and He will put a yoke of iron upon your neck until He has destroyed you, Deuteronomy 28:47-48.

To those individuals who return to their cars, ropes and strings are located throughout the woods, personal belongings of the dead are scattered on the ground and rumors of ghosts haunting this domain continue today. Nearby residents of Aokigahara Forest have warned their children to stay away from this park for the past sixty years. Unfortunately, curious bystanders can’t resist the urge to explore the anomaly that people who enter this forest go crazy and commit suicide. If you think the Aokigahara Forest is merely an urban legend, local authorities no longer provide official data on suicide rates to journalists.

Moreover, He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every affliction which is not written in this Book of the Law the Lord will bring upon you until you are destroyed, Deuteronomy 28:60-61.

In the Old Testament, Moses devotes to an entire chapter to blessings and curses. Moses spends the first 14 verses to explain how and why blessings occur. Meanwhile, the final 54 verses are designed to highlight how someone, something or a place can be cursed. As more paranormal investigations occur at Aokigahara Forest, perhaps researchers will unlock the secret of these mysterious suicides. However, for now the presence of evil spirits here is invisible to the human eye. Yet, if demons and evil spirits continue to prematurely end the lives to troubles souls, dead bodies are more than enough proof that Aokigahara Forest remains an evil place on earth.

by Jay Mankus

Pro Wrestling and the Bible

I’m sorry for the spoiler alert, but pro wrestling is the not real. Whether you’re talking about a Steel Cage, Rumble or Tag Team Match, the outcome has already been decided. While the action is fast and furious with some wrestlers thrown out of the ring and into the stands, promoters predetermine who will win and who will lose. Yet, the main event is what usually draws an audience to watch, sort of knowing all long who will win.

And shall say to them, Hear, O Israel, you draw near this day to battle against your enemies. Let not your [minds and] hearts faint; fear not, and do not tremble or be terrified [and in dread] because of them. For the Lord your God is He Who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to save you, Deuteronomy 20:3-4.

Relying upon past experiences, Moses sensed God’s presence during the 10 Plagues during his time in Egypt. While Israel’s safe exodus out of Egypt seemed improbable, the Lord protected God’s people until they reach the Promised Land. However, slaying a land filled with giants didn’t sit well with 10 of the 12 spies sent out in Number 13. Nonetheless, the Lord your God goes out to fight for you against your enemies today, with little recognition or praise.

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 forever) in and unto victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? 56 Now sin is the sting of death, and sin exercises its power [upon the soul] through [the abuse of] the Law. 57 But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory [making us conquerors] through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

In case you haven’t read the end of the Bible, spoiler alert #2, in the end God wins. The apostle Paul explains this spiritual victory in the passage above. Following original sin in the Garden of Eden, human nature separated human beings from God. Yet, Christ died and conquered death by rising from the grave 3 days later. This is what connects Professional Wrestling with the Bible, the outcome is known. Yet, the only question remaining is “have you made your reservation?” See 1 John 5:13 and Romans 10:9-11 for further instructions.

by Jay Mankus

When You Need to be Propped Up

A farmer developed an unusual way of ending his prayer at church. Whenever called upon to close Sunday’s service in prayer, this farmer opted to skip the typically Amen. Instead, this man of God would close using the phrase, “God prop us up on our leaning side.” Curious, the senior pastor wanted to understand the meaning of this expression. This was conceived after noticing an old barn on his property began to lean to one side. To avoid losing this barn, the farmer braced it on one to secure it’s future.

[Strive to] save others, snatching [them] out of [the] fire; on others take pity [but] with fear, loathing even the garment spotted by the flesh and polluted by their sensuality, Jude 1:23.

In the 17th chapter of Exodus, Moses recalls a memorable battle. Instead of fighting, Moses delegates this task to his successor Joshua. According to Exodus 17:9-10, Moses played the role of cheerleader, holding up the rod of God. As long as Moses arms were held high, Israel was winning. However, as soon as Moses’ arms grew weak, Amalek prevailed. To ensure a victory, the Lord sent Aaron and Hur to prop up Moses’ arms. This is another form of being propped up.

Now to Him Who is able to keep you without stumbling or slipping or falling, and to present [you] unblemished (blameless and faultless) before the presence of His glory in triumphant joy and exultation [with unspeakable, ecstatic delight]—Jude 1:24.

Due to our fallen nature, Romans 3:11, every human being has a tendency to lean toward the sinful nature, Galatians 5:19-21. Instead of continuing leaning until you stumble and fall, Jude provides an alternative. Just as the apostle Paul urges believers to set your heart and mind and things above, Jude wants us to prop others up before they fall over. The more you focus your attention on helping other, the less likely you’ll find yourself indulging your sinful nature. The next time you see someone leaning, ask God to prop them up on their leaning side.

by Jay Mankus

The Presence of Jesus in the Old Testament

Foreshadowing is an indication of what is to come. When plan A failed, allowing Adam and Eve to have free reign of the Garden and Eden except for the Tree of Knowledge, God uses imagery to introduce plan B. The apostle Paul explains the science of God in Romans 5:12-21. What Adam failed to do, being obedient to God, Jesus is sent several thousand years later to seek and to save that which was lost, Luke 19:10.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He will bruise and tread your head underfoot, and you will lie in wait and bruise His heel, Genesis 3:15.

In the second book of the Bible, the Lord raises up a man named Moses to be the voice of God for Israel. The only problem was Moses suffered from a severe speech impediment, Exodus 4:10. Despite getting frustrated with Moses’ lack of faith, God sends Aaron to speak on his behalf until Moses finds the courage to confront Pharaoh. The only way to survive an angel of death was to sacrifice a perfect lamb, without blemishes. Then sprinkle it’s blood above and upon your door posts. This lamb is symbolic of Jesus.

And you shall eat it thus: [as fully prepared for a journey] your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment [proving their helplessness]. I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be for a token or sign to you upon [the doorposts of] the houses where you are, [that] when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall be upon you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt, Exodus 12:11-13.

Seven hundred years prior to the birth of Christ, a seer named Isaiah prophesied about Jesus’ birth, life and death. Isaiah 53:1-10 compares Jesus to a shepherd laying his life down for his sheep. The disciple who Jesus loved echoes this in John 10:1-11. While the Old Testament does show the wrath of God poured out upon the disobedient, the presence of Jesus sets the stage for God’s unconditional love in the New Testament. May this blog remind you of the numerous promises of God that have been fulfilled and those yet still to come.

by Jay Mankus

Glory, Honor and Peace

Before stepping down as leader of Israel, Moses gives a farewell address in Deuteronomy 30. In the middle of this speech, Moses gives a call to action in verses 15-17. These words reveal Moses’ hope for the nation of Israel, to listen to and obey God’s commands in the Torah. Based upon the passage below, the apostle Paul revisits this topic by detailing the pros and cons of obedience and disobedience.

But for those who are self-seeking and self-willed and disobedient to the Truth but responsive to wickedness, there will be indignation and wrath. [And] there will be tribulation and anguish and calamity and constraint for every soul of man who [habitually] does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek (Gentile), Romans 2:8-9.

Paul gives three explanations for why individuals end up habitually doing evil. The first two, self-seeking and self-willed, directly impact the third. Whenever anyone is self-absorbed, certain aspects of reality are overlooked. When you add to this equation by justifying and rationalizing wrong actions, the Truth within the Bible is discarded or ignored.

But glory and honor and [heart] peace shall be awarded to everyone who [habitually] does good, the Jew first and also the Greek (Gentile), Romans 2:10.

Meanwhile, Paul promises three blessings for those who habitually do good: glory, honor and peace. While Romans 7:15-18 reveals that the ability to do good is hindered by our own sinful nature, Galatians 5:25 explains how the Holy Spirit can lead to good habits. Although you may be tempted to take short cuts or cross the boundaries set in the Bible, if you want to experience glory, honor and peace, doing good is the only path that promises these blessings.

by Jay Mankus

Don’t Overlook God’s Providence

Immediately following the Exodus out of Egypt, the Israelites fled into the desert.  When Pharaoh changed his mind, Moses led God’s people to the banks of the Red Sea.  Against all odds, the Lord enabled Moses to part this body of water before collapsing upon and swallowing up the Egyptian army.  After witnessing this miracle, any event that follows would be obscure.  Thus, when God magically sent bread, manna from heaven, the Jews slowly began to overlook the obvious.

And the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the Israelites no longer had manna, but they ate some of the produce of the land of Canaan during that year, Joshua 5:12.

Like any human being, time has a way of changing your perspective.  Initial awe, excitement and joy can fade when everything that follows is small in comparison.  Perhaps, this explains Jesus comment to one if his disciples, “blessed are those do not see me yet believe.”  The testimony of followers of Jesus immediately following his resurrection should have been enough.  Yet, doubt prevented Thomas from believing, needing to see with his own eyes.  When you live with a miracle worker every day for three years, at some point you begin to over look the obvious, expecting greater things.

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, do you now believe? Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, and favored by God] are they who did not see [Me] and yet believed [in Me],” John 20:29.

As holiday shoppers rush through life to get their Christmas preparations in order, it’s hard to keep track of daily mundane responsibilities.  Meanwhile, subtle miracles are glanced over as God provides this or that without any praise or thanks.  Unfortunately, I tend to be the type of person who allows themselves to be pushed to the limit, on the verge of mental exhaustion weekly.  Thus, instead of seeing subtle signs of God’s providence, I have ignored the obvious.  I guess I need to follow the advice of the Psalmist by being still before God, Psalm 46:10.  When you do, you will stop overlooking the obvious by observing the hand of God over your life.

by Jay Mankus

You Only Get One Life

As the 2018 National Basketball Association kicked off their season in Boston this week, I am reminded of a tragedy from the past.  Len Bias was the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, selected by the Boston Celtics.  This former all American who played at the University of Maryland was primed for greatness.  Yet, during a post draft party, Len decided to try Cocaine, apparently for the first time.  This fateful decision induced cardiac arrhythmia resulting in Bias’ death two days later.

“Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil); 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk [that is, to live each and every day] in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments (precepts), so that you will live and multiply, and that the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to possess, Deuteronomy 30:15-16.

I was about to start my senior year of high school when I first heard of Len Bias’ death.  Growing up ninety minutes from College Park, Maryland, this news was devastating.  To make matters worse, I lost one of my best friends to cancer during my sophomore year of college.  When my grand father passed away, it was tough to deal with, but at least he lived a full life.  However, when a young person, who hasn’t entered the prime of their life is taken away by death, this reality is hard to accept.  Unfortunately, human beings don’t have nine lives like cats who seem to escape death on numerous occasions.

But if your heart turns away and you will not hear and obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you will certainly perish. You will not live long in the land which you cross the Jordan to enter and possess, Deuteronomy 30:17-18.

During his farewell address as leader of Israel, Moses pours out his heart to his followers.  In the middle of his speech, Moses urges the crowd to be careful to make wise decisions.  According to the passage above, each choice you make on earth leads to one of two destinations: life or death.  Since you only get one life to live, choose life.  This isn’t a video game where you get to hit a reset button to receive a new life.  Rather, actions have consequences, especially when poor choices are made.  Therefore, may the words of Moses speak to your heart as you seek to make the most of the life God has given you.

by Jay Mankus

 

The Shadow of Death

Every morning and evening before sunset, shadows reflect the landscape of the earth.  Mountains, rolling hills and trees leave imprints of what is near or around you.  Once darkness exchanges day with night, shadows are limited to moonlight, stars and the northern lights.  However, the shadow of death can apear at a moments notice, signaling that your days on earth are numbered.  24 hours ago there was a murder suicide in my neighborhood, taking the lives of two twenty year olds.

Even though I walk through the [sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort and console me, Psalm 23:4.

Psalm 23 is a common Bible reading at funerals.  As a shepherd living under the stars, shadows were a normal sight for David.  Yet, the painful reality of death inspired David to coin this chapter.  The only time I have witnessed death was just before my oldest sons birth.  Since my grandfather’s health was failing, family was noticed as everyone gathered around his bed.  Struggling to breathe, my sister Cindy began to read Psalm 23 to ease his pain.  A few minutes later, grandpa Kautz gave up his spirit.

“Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil); 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk [that is, to live each and every day] in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments (precepts), so that you will live and multiply, and that the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to possess, Deuteronomy 30:15-16.”

One of the forefather’s of Israel, Moses eludes to the shadow of death in his farewell address before Joshua takes over for him as leader.  Moses provides an unique perspective, using choices as an analogy.  According to Moses, the choices you make daily lead to one destination or the other.  Life and death are a series of choices that shape the path you will take in life.  If this is true, choose life so that the shadow of death will be held off until later on in life.

by Jay Mankus

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