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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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Bouncing Back from Defeat

Winston Churchill once defined success as going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.  I wish I was familiar with this quote during my final two seasons as a youth baseball coach.  I can’t remember how many games my team lost as defeat became of way of life.  Since these 2 teams only won 4 games, just one in my final season, celebrations were few and far between.  This likely explains Churchill’s emphasis on enthusiasm, learning from each failed attempt to ensure the same mistakes of the past aren’t repeated in future battles.

For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory, Deuteronomy 20:4.

In my first and only season as a head basketball coach, my players never experienced defeat, going 13-0.  The only time this team trailed at the half was in the city championship game, down by 10 points.  Clawing back in the second half, these players fought hard to send the game into overtime.  On the final play in overtime, my sixth man collected a weak side rebound, tipping the ball in at the buzzer.  When perfection is achieved, enthusiasm comes naturally.  Yet, as a coach, sometimes failure serves as a wake up call.  If a team despises losing, the fear of defeat motivates players to do everything in their power to ensure victory.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me, Philippians 4:13.

Last Friday I received news that Hollywood rejected my latest screen play.  While this news should have been devastating, my soul was comforted by a Winston Churchill quote I heard on the radio.  C.S. Lewis defined success as the process of arriving in Mere Christianity.  A century earlier, Thomas Edison discovered 2000 ways how not to produce electricity before finally inventing the incandescent lightbulb.  If you can learn one thing from history it is that failure is a necessary evil to spur souls on to reach their ultimate goal.  As for me, I’m not sure if I will ever write a successful movie that is bought or produced by Hollywood.  Nonetheless, if I turn to Christ who strengthens me, my enthusiasm for writing will return so that my dream of writing one screen play per year in retirement may soon become a reality.  This is how I plan to bounce back from defeat.

by Jay Mankus

 

The Anonymous People

The 2013 film  the Anonymous People is a documentary about 23.5 million Americans living in long term recovery from drugs and alcohol.  According to Many Faces One Voice, the Anonymous People is a movement to change the perception of addiction is this country.  The content of this project spans nearly five decades, illustrating how the war on drugs actually hindered and stunted this groups progress.  Actress Kristen Johnston opens up about her battle with addiction, sharing her pain from personal encounters with Hollywood’s denial of this epidemic.

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.

The Bible reveals God’s compassion on broken hearted people.  While there are many factors that result in bruised, crushed and wounded hearts, the Lord has a history of reaching out to desperate souls.  In biblical times, the diseased, ill and sick were cast outside of city limits, fearful healthy citizens would contract their ailment.  Similar to the fear of AIDS in the 1980’s, those stigmatized by society are fighting a losing battle.  Thus, its essential to turn the tide by beginning to change the hearts and minds of Americans with a convincing argument.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working, James 5:16.

The Bible and the road to recovery share a similar concept, confession.  Whether you are attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or come to your spiritual senses, opening up is the first step toward healing.  The second Great Awakening in Great Britain arose out of young people standing up in front of a church to publically confess their sins.  This brave act compelled others to open up about their dark past.  The more individuals begin to share their own struggles, others will be inspired to do the same.  May this blog motivate you to step out in faith so that others can avoid the same mistakes others have made in their lives.

by Jay Mankus

 

Kenosis

The season of Lent ends this week.  This religious ceremony begins Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras concludes.  Since Lent lasts forty days, human nature offers individuals one last day to indulge your fleshly desires in the form of Fat Tuesday.  This Catholic tradition was designed to give Christians time to spiritually prepare themselves for Easter, giving up meat on Fridays during these six weeks.  The goal of this spiritual season is to empty yourself, to deny self so that you become more like Christ.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” Luke 9:23.

The Bible uses a Greek term to describe a similar process.  Kenosis refers to the renunciation of the divine nature in part by Christ based upon the virgin birth of his mother Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  In layman terms, kenosis is the relinquishment of divine attributes by Jesus Christ in becoming human.  To avoid any type of addiction to the sinful nature, Christians should strive to do the opposite, replacing selfish desires by making room for God.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, Galatians 2:20.

The apostle Paul highlights this process in the verse above.    Starting over spiritually requires drastic measures, crossing out your own selfish ambitions with a devotion and passion to serve the Lord.  Although changes are hard to make permanently, this is where faith comes into the equation.  May the reality of Jesus’ resurrection inspire depressed individuals with a new sense of hope for transformation.  As Easter draws near, don’t be afraid to give your life over to Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

 

Doing Whatever It Takes

As a parent, I can anticipate failure before a grade is given or the final score is relayed.  The secret to this insight is simple, hard work is often rewarded and laziness is penalized.  For me, the most painful aspect of parenting is seeing the potential your child has yet being unable to convince them to do whatever it takes to ensure success.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you, Philippians 4:8-9.

For those of you who coach or teach, this same dilemma exists.  How do you express someone’s gifts or talents without trying to live your life through them?  In the film Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams plays a psychologist who is introduced to a genius played by Matt Damon with a troubled past.  These secret scars, hidden from plain view prevent Will from doing whatever it took to apply his knowledge in a positive manner.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15.

Today, the future is bright, but too many young people don’t have the resolve necessary to see their dreams come true.  Sure, the average teenager wants to have a great life, but this doesn’t happen with a snap of your finger.  Only the disciplined, driven and hungry will begin to see the fruits of their labor.  Thus, a parent can encourage, inspire or motivate their offspring.  In the end, a parent can only pray that their child develops a zeal to follow God’s will on earth.  The key to this fulfillment is doing whatever it takes.

by Jay Mankus

 

Saltless Without the Supernatural

The older I become, the harder it is for me to become energized.  Perhaps, a lack of vision is to blame.  Yet, as I dig a little deeper through prayer and reflection, I think I have found the culprit.  Apparently, I have lost my saltiness, losing the ability to add flavor to the lives of those whom I come in contact.  This may explain why I have so little to say wherever I go.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot,” Matthew 5:13.

In the first century, salt was used as a preservative, caking and packing fresh meat to slow down the spoiling process.  Prior to electricity, if you wanted protein hunting or fishing was the only option.  Salt allowed leftovers from lunch for dinner until this endless cycle continued the next day.  In the passage above, Jesus uses Sermon on the Mount as a teachable moment to interject salt into every day conversations.

Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” Mark 9:50.

For those of us not gifted with a type A personality, another source is necessary to fill this gap.  This is where the sinful nature must submit to the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:16-18.  Until you become separated from this tempting force, you will be saltless without the supernatural.  Like filling up a car, the shy, quiet and uninspired must plug into God through Bible study, prayer and worship.  You could try other methods like I have but you likely come up empty.  May this blog motivate you to have salt in yourself by sharing what God is teaching you daily.  May the salt be with you.

by Jay Mankus

 

Applying Your Heart

One of the ways my former high school teachers attempted to motivate students was through the phrase, “you have to apply yourself.”  Somewhat sarcastic at the time, wondering to myself, “so do you want me to apply for a job?”  Based upon the definition, I guess these individuals wanted me to engage and utilize what I was learning at the time.

Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, Proverbs 22:17.

Fortunately, King Solomon explains this concept within 2 chapters of Proverbs.  Like a child being raised by godly parents, the Lord wants his followers to become more than listeners.  Rather than giving mere lips service, “I get it!”  God longs for his children to put God’s Word, the Bible into practice.  This is what it means to apply your heart.

Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge, Proverbs 23:12.

Unfortunately, many people are jaded by disappointment, failure and trials in life.  Like the Aerosmith song Jaded, lead singer Steven Tyler wrote this song after feeling like he neglected his youngest daughter, missing most of her childhood while touring.  Those who reach this unwelcomed state often feel trapped, paralyzed and unable to change.  Therefore, if you sense things are beginning to slip slide away, may the Holy Spirit empower you to apply your heart.

by Jay Mankus

 

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