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An Unlikely Comeback

There are certain things that God calls people to do that are awkward, challenging and unappealing,  Unless someone possesses a strong conviction or will to act, most individuals exercise freewill to decline this opportunity to serve God.  In the passage below, an Old Testament prophet receives a clear message from the Lord.  However, human nature compels Jonah to flee, heading in the opposite direction of Nineveh.  This decision sets the stage for an unlikely comeback.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim [judgment] against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah ran away to Tarshish to escape from the presence of the Lord [and his duty as His prophet]. He went down to ]Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish [the most remote of the Phoenician trading cities]. So he paid the fare and went down into the ship to go with them to Tarshish away from the presence of the Lord, Jonah 1:1-3.

From time to time, I have met people whose lives have taken a similar path to Jonah.  Initial stages play the role of a prodigal, indulging their sinful nature until hitting rock bottom.  For those who come to their senses, confessions, repentance and reconciliation follows.  While in college, I spent a day at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio with two co-workers.  My friend Harry ran into an old youth pastor.  Eddy and I stared at each other in shock, unaware of Harry’s former life.  Prior to this encounter, Harry was in full blown prodigal mode, cursing like a sailor daily while living with his girlfriend.  This God instance planted the seed for another unlikely comeback.

Then they said to him, “Now tell us!  Who is to blame for this disaster? What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country?” So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I [reverently] fear and worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  Then the men became extremely frightened and said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was running from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 Then they said to him, “What should we do to you, so that the sea will become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming more and more violent, Jonah 1:8-11.

Stories like this and the apostle Paul’s radical transformation in Acts 9 communicate a powerful message, anything is possible with God.  The Psalmist uses the imagery of infinity, ” as far as the east is from the west,” to describe God’s endless supply of grace, love and mercy.  To the human mind, this fact is hard to comprehend and grasp.  Nonetheless, whether you are currently running away from God, stuck in a relentless storm or ready to give God another chance, its never too late for a comeback.  May the testimony of Jonah give you hope that you too are a candidate for an unlikely spiritual comeback.

by Jay Mankus

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Listen, Obey and Yield

During the last half century, I have been fortunate enough to attend, listen and participate in numerous inspirational events.  I went to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during a Billy Graham Crusade to hear NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White speak.  Shortly after getting married, I heard former Colorado football coach Bill McCarthy address a crowd of sixty five thousand men during a Promise Keepers event at Soldier Field.  I spent a year under the spiritual leadership of Alistair Begg, the voice of Truth for Life ministries at the Chapel in Solon, Ohio.  Finally, I spent another year soaking in the knowledge of John Ortberg via Community Services at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois.

But even as he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were [greatly] afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, My Chosen One; listen and obey and yield to Him!” – Luke 9:34-35

Many of these speeches invigorated my soul, eager to live out my faith.  Yet, there is one message that stands alone in the Bible.  In the passage above, there were only four people present.  Beside Jesus, James, John and Peter were on a mountain that was engulfed by clouds.  This formation is similar to a heavy fog, limiting your visibility to a couple of feet.  Within this cloud, the voice of God the Father spoke.  To make sure there isn’t any doubt, God identifies Jesus as his own son.  Believing that brevity is clarity, God the Father shares seven words.  The command is simply: listen, obey and yield to Jesus.

When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found there alone. And they kept silent, and told no one at that time any of the things which they had seen [concerning the divine manifestation], Luke 9:36.

Listening means to be attentive, concentrate, hang on and keep your ears open.  Obeying is the act of accepting, bowing, carrying out, deferring to and submitting to that which is being recommended.  Yield refers to bear, contribute, fetch, gather, provide and realize the plan.  In this context, the calling that God has designed for your life.  According to the passage above, theses three disciples were in awe, reflecting upon what had just happened.  None of these men revealed this event until after Jesus rose from the dead.  Although there were only three eye witnesses, God’s message to modern believers hasn’t changed.  Listen, obey and yield to Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

Hell Town USA

Boston Village was founded in 1806, located in the northeast portion of Ohio.  Situated on Interstate 271 between Macedonia and Interstate 77, Boston was a thriving area until 1974.  According to a bill signed by president Gerald Ford, eminent domain ceased control of this town to make way for the creation of a National Park along the nearby Cuyahoga River.  Other reports spread rumors about a chemical spill that the government was trying to conceal.  Either way, these events led to a mass exodus resulting in the abandonment of Boston, Ohio.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places, Ephesians 6:12.

In the years that have followed, this remnant of a town within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park has spawned legendary folklore.  Destination America aired a special last Sunday that suggests this area is haunted and or haven for Satanic activity.  Those buildings which still stand today are being used for rituals that has released demonic activity in this area.  Whether exaggerated, true or some where in between, this region has earned the nickname Hell Town USA.

The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, Daniel 10:13.

If you have ever studied the Bible, the idea of an area on earth controlled by demonic influences isn’t foreign.  In the Old Testament, Daniel writes about an encounter with a Satanic entity.  This being fought Daniel for three weeks, seeking to control this earthly dominion.  Too powerful to fight alone, Daniel asked the Lord for reinforcements, sending an angel for protection.  Due to invisibility, not much is known about the spiritual realm.  Yet, as you study the Bible, begin to use prayer as a hedge of protection and seek the counsel of elder believers, this spiritual exercise will prepare you for future experiences with hell on earth.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

 

A Thornbush in a Drunkard’s Hand

Forrest Gump gave America the notion that “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.”  This imagery reminds individuals of the days of generic Valentine Day boxes filled with an unlabeled variety of flavors.  Unfortunately, few movies address delicate issues like alcoholism in When a Man Loves a Woman.

Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool, Proverbs 26:9.

According to King Solomon, drunkenness is nothing new.  Jewish wedding receptions often lasted several days with some extended for a week.  It was common for hosts to bring out cheap wine once most of the guests were hammered, unable to tell the difference anymore.  Whether Solomon is referring to an actual event following a party or using hyperbole, drinking numbs the pain of individuals.  The physical affects with a thornbush will be felt after the alcohol wears off.

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap, Luke 21:34.

One of the hardest transitions facing young people is learning to have fun in life without alcohol.  When my father was transferred to Cleveland while I was in college, making new friends was tough.  After meeting some people my own age, I became their designated driver whenever this group went clubbing on the Flats in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.  Unfortunately, most of them could not dance without getting drunk.  Not wanting to wait one evening, I traded places with a girl friend, helping the crew down 3 pitchers of beer.  While I was the life of the party for a few hours, the lingering affects of this spree lasted 2 days.  Thus, I know what its like to be a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand and its not a place where you’ll ever want to visit.  Heed the passage above to avoid the pain I endured.

by Jay Mankus

Quitters Focus on the Wrong Things

1. Success is the process of arriving, not victory.

Instant gratification often causes the casual athlete, fan or participant to give up before seeing the fruits of their labor.  Christian apologist Clive Staples Lewis defines success as the process of arriving in his book Mere Christianity.  Unfortunately, a spirit of perfection leads many to fail to comprehend this mindset.  Thus, every year individuals stop pursuing their dreams, end a career prematurely or quit their jobs due to a lack of satisfaction.

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established, Proverbs 16:3.

2. Failure is a blue print for knowing what does not work.

In 1994, my fiance gave me her blessing to pursue professional golf in 1995.  I spent the first three months playing on the Tommy Armour Tour, a mini-tour based in Florida.  The day before my first tournament, I completely changed my swing.  After three humbling tournaments, I made my way up north to Ohio before participating in Qualifying School on Vancouver Island for the Canadian P.G.A. tour.  After being even par after 4 holes, I fell apart missing the 36 hole cut.  Looking back, if I would have waited one year before turning professional, I would have had a better chance.  Yet, for now, I know what not to do.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever, Psalm 73:26.

3. Humility strips away pride, prompting hearts to trust in God, not self.

One of the hardest things to determine in life is knowing when to say when.  For me, it didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t belong on the P.G.A. tour.  Facing failure tends to strip away arrogance, especially when you come to the reality “I can’t do this.”  However, today I struggle with determining if I have done everything possible in power to ensure success.  In the past, when I’ve allowed frustration to dictate my decision making, I quit before the timing was right.  Therefore, before you make a rash decision in the future, make sure you trust in the Lord’s understanding instead of yourself.

In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight, Proverbs 3:6.

by Jay Mankus

The Final Weigh In

During my sophomore year of college, my parents moved from Delaware to Cleveland, Ohio.  In my first summer, I met some friends working at a local country club, one whom I instantly clicked with.  When he wasn’t serving as my sand volleyball partner, Eddy wrestled for Cleveland State.  Always conscience of his weight, Eddy shared about the discipline and sacrifices necessary to make weight for his matches.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way, Daniel 1:8.

Today, my oldest son James deals with a similar issue on a weekly basis.  Before each Pole Vault competition, you have a weigh in before a judge.  Depending upon the scale, your pole is determined based upon your weight.  Thus, if you weigh just a pound over the legal limit, you are forced to use a heavy pole, not as flexible as the lighter ones.  A few weeks ago James had to lose five pounds in 24 hours just to compete.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food, Daniel 1:15.

Following ten days of eating fruits and vegetables, there was a noticeable difference between Daniel and rest of those in the king’s service.  While there wasn’t a scale to step on, Daniel and his Jewish friends found favor with God.  Under different circumstances, I had one last weigh in upon completing my Daniel Fast.  To my surprise, I lost 16 pounds in 21 days.  Although part of me wants to continue to lose weight, that’s not my main priority.  One day everyone will have their final weigh in on judgement day.  When this day arrives, may the grace of God be merciful on this sinner.  Prepare now for your own final weigh in.

by Jay Mankus

 

Friends of Laughter

Unfortunately, I tend to speed through life, rarely taking the time for fun or laughter.  However, every so often the Lord sends someone to give me a different perspective on life.  During a youth ministry trade school called Tentmakers’ in honor of the apostle Paul, I met Otis Phillips, a fun loving individual who faithfully served the Lord.  The energy Otis poured out daily was amazing, yet his greatest asset was causing those around him to laugh.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, Ecclesiastes 3:1.

One year later, I became close friends with a youth pastor from Ohio.  A kid at heart, Phil taught me to live life to the fullest.  Thus, every Monday afternoon we had lunch in Cincinnati.  Whether it was playing mini-golf, laser tag or video games, Phil helped me forget about life for a couple hours each Monday.  Subsequently, I learned to laugh at my myself, others and began to grasp a peace that surpasses understanding.

A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, Ecclesiastes 3:4.

Finally, in the past decade, God brought me Spencer, possessing qualities similar to Otis and Phil.  On earth, life isn’t easy, filled with unexpected twists and turns.  Sometimes the bad sticks around much longer than glimpses of hope that I see momentarily.  However, in the end, its important to find friends of laughter to get you through trials and tribulations in this life.  As 2016 is about to begin, I pray that I can bring joy to others like these 3 friends have brought to me.  Like the classic camp song proclaims, Pass It On!

by Jay Mankus

 

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