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What a Special Friend Can Do for You

Before the Coronavirus spread to the United States in the March of 2000, my daughter Lydia was thinking about ending her Pole Vaulting career. The 2020 Winter Track Season was blah; not progressing at pole vaulting or meeting any new friends. As a Field Event specialist, not part of any running events, it’s hard to experience the sense of being part of a team. This all changed when Lydia met Bree at the 2020 Winter Track State Meet.

The man of many friends [a friend of all the world] will prove himself a bad friend, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, Proverbs 18:24.

Instead of dreading track, this instant friendship has transformed my daughter’s perspective of this sport. Bree has been like a big sister, introducing Lydia to everyone in the pole vaulting community. In her first two seasons, Lydia enjoyed pole vaulting, but she could live without it. Now that my daughter has been welcomed by the local pole vaulting community, a new desire to improve was conceived. When a special friend enters your life, these individuals take you to new heights, often pushing you closer toward self actualization.

No one has greater love [no one has shown stronger affection] than to lay down (give up) his own life for his friends, John 15:13.

In the Old Testament, King Solomon distinguishes the difference between having several acquaintances and a special friend. Genuine friends stick around when everyone else tends to leave during times of hardship. Meanwhile, one of Jesus’ disciples refers to the sacrifices that friends make with the greatest being laying down their own life. We all need special friends like Bree. Looking back, if it wasn’t for Bree, Lydia probably would not have broken her school record which she now holds by herself at 9’6″.

by Jay Mankus

A Deep and Clear Knowledge of God’s Will

The only thing on earth comparable to uncovering a deep and clear knowledge of God’s will is preparing your body for a triathlon. As a former runner and swimmer, I spent two winters in high school pushing my body to it’s limits. Since my practice schedule rotated with the girl’s team, every other day I would run before swimming. As it got colder, my hair would freeze when I ran after my two hour swim practice. Meanwhile, each summer I would take my boys on long bike trip, somewhere between 10-15 miles. Trying to walk after getting off your bike is hard enough, but finishing a triathlon with a long run takes everything you have just to finish.

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you], Romans 12:1-2.

In a letter to the Church at Rome, the apostle Paul suggests that discovering God’s will for your life is attainable. However, you must develop the right mindset to make this a reality. Whenever I get lost in the world, filled with countless temporary pleasures, God’s will is put on hold. As a prodigal returns back home to the Lord, rededicating your life back to the Lord isn’t easy, especially when temptations begin to bombard you. Paul compares this with rigid daily disciplines as individuals offer their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Yet, this is just the initially step before God’s will becomes clear and visible.

For this reason we also, from the day we heard of it, have not ceased to pray and make [special] request for you, [asking] that you may be filled with the full (deep and clear) knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom [in comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God] and in understanding and discernment of spiritual things—Colossians 1:9.

While writing to the members of the Church at Colosse, Paul shares a brief outline of his prayers. Paul doesn’t want this church to wonder in the wilderness for 40 years like Israel waiting to enter God’s Promised Land. Rather, Paul wants these leaders to begin to ascertain their spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, so that these talents can be put into action, 2 Timothy 1:6. As these God given abilities are brought to light, a glimpse of God’s will for your life comes into focus. Yet, this process often takes years, decades and a lifetime to uncover. If you want to adopt Paul’s prayer for your own life, start this journey today so that a deep and clear knowledge of God’s will is unveiled to you soon.

by Jay Mankus

Run into the Tower

As a former runner, my high school cross country coach used a series of different techniques to get our team into shape at the beginning of each season. One of my favorites is known as fartlek training. This intermixes walking, jogging, and sprinting. Depending upon the group you were placed in, the leader with a stop watch sets the pace and gives the command to switch every 2 to 5 minutes. Starting with power walking soon transitions into a steady jog until you go all out, as fast as you can go, until this cycle is repeated several times.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the [consistently] righteous man [upright and in right standing with God] runs into it and is safe, high [above evil] and strong, Proverbs 18:10.

King Solomon uses the Hebrew word לרוץ at the end of the passage above. Solomon could have used הליכה to command his children to walk into God’s strong tower. Another option was to זה מה שאני עושה, by elevating the sense of urgency to a jog. Rather, Solomon doesn’t want people to be apathetic or distracted. Thus, when you find yourself surrounded by a world filled with darkness, run toward to the Lord’s strong and safe tower. This level of urgency is found in those who are upright and in right standing with God.

The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as a high protecting wall in his own imagination and conceit, Proverbs 18:11.

Unfortunately, the gifted, talented, and wealthy often exchange God’s tower for a high wall that they build on their own. Solomon compares this type of person with conceited individuals who possess a great imagination. The apostle Paul refers to a similar character flaw in Galatians 6:7. While things may go well for you for a while, those who trust in themselves will eventually become worn out by living outside of God’s strong tower. In view of this spiritual reality, run into God’s tower.

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

Have You Been Knocked Down??? Perhaps it’s Time to Get Up

Living in South Jersey at the time, I remember my parents taking me to see Rocky I shortly after it debuted in theaters in November of 1976. Despite seeing this film 49 years ago, I still recall how engaged the audience was with Rocky’s character played by Sylvester Stallone. Beside the raucous cheering, total strangers bonded as the fight scene continued until the 15th and final round. Men and women began to cry out, “get up Rocky; get up!” Have you been knocked down in 2020? If so, perhaps it’s time to get up.

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1.

While the Coronavirus has resulted in a living nightmare for countless Americans, the worst year for me was 2012. Before I could enjoying celebrating the start of a new year, I received a phone call on New Year’s Day informing me that my teaching position of 10 years would be terminated at the end of the month. This call was like a punch to the gut, knocking the wind out of my sails. Beside flying to California for Leanne’s uncle’s 80th birthday party, the next 18 months was filled with disappointment, heartbreak and unemployment.

Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Just think of Him Who endured from sinners such grievous opposition and bitter hostility against Himself [reckon up and consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you may not grow weary or exhausted, losing heart and relaxing and fainting in your minds, Hebrews 12:2-3.

At the time, I never thought this trial would end until I landed on my feet at Amazon. If 2020 has left you in the dark, clueless to where to go or what to do, you’re not alone. According to the author of Hebrews, Christians who have passed away are up in heaven cheering you on. Life is compared to a marathon like spectators at the Olympics encouraging tired runners to keep on going until the race is finished. Whatever your current circumstances maybe, don’t let pain keep you down. Rather, get up while there is still time to finish what God has prepared for you to do, Philippians 1:6.

by Jay Mankus

Run with Certainty

After spending 4 years running cross country in high school, my college career lasted a week. The coach who recruited me and spoke at my high school banquet didn’t know my name on the first day of practice. Everything that I thought to be true about my potential in college was a lie. I’ve never been a quitter, but I lost my sense of purpose after 5 days. I didn’t have the energy to even make it on the junior varsity team. I guess you can say I lost that loving feeling for running if there is such a thing.

Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary, 1 Corinthians 9:26.

Intramural sports kept me in shape after I gained the freshman 25. I suppose breaking the dorm record by eating 9 cheese steaks in 30 minutes wasn’t such a good idea. Anyway, as my first set of mid-term exams arrived, I used running as a study break to clear my mind. Some nights I took a slow jog around campus. When finals stared me in the face, running became like a break from life. Listening to the sound track to Rocky IV provided me to the adrenaline to fly around campus before returning to my books.

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1.

Thirty years and another fifty pounds later, I have limited my running to the spiritual kind. While eluding to the Corinthian Games, a popular track and field event during the first century, Paul talks about the mindset runners possess. Instead of listening to your body, long distance runners enter a trance like state, focused on what’s ahead while maintaining a steady stride. When you run with certainty, there’s no doubt you’ll cross the finish line. Christian’s don’t leave their old life behind to follow Jesus just hoping to get into heaven. Rather, we run with certainty, 1 John 5:13.

by Jay Mankus

When You are Going Through a Phase in Life

As children begin to experience and go through puberty, this period initializes a series of phases in life. Depending upon maturity, support systems, and upbringing, most teenagers don’t respond well to change. Each phase could last as short as a week, extend for months or stretch beyond a year. As a former teacher, I recognize the obvious signs and signals. Yet, some are like poker players who hide their cards well.

But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior to man [as man] appeared, He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but because of His own pity and mercy, by [the] cleansing [bath] of the new birth (regeneration) and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:4-5.

If I had to point to my own life, the junior high years were the hardest for me. At five feet tall and ninety pounds for 2 years, I was an easy target for bullies. One of the only positives for me was my speed, able to outrun most of my attackers like Forrest Gump. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Jenny who attended the same school. My neighbor Jeanette went to a private school so I was forced to fend for myself like the social misfits in the classic film Outsiders.

Which He poured out [so] richly upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. [And He did it in order] that we might be justified by His grace (by His favor, wholly undeserved), [that we might be acknowledged and counted as conformed to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action], and that we might become heirs of eternal life according to [our] hope, Titus 3:6-7.

I thought joining the Boy Scouts might help me overcome the fitting in phase. Looking back, I found just as many bullies there as in school. What I really needed was a personal relationship with Jesus, but this didn’t happen until 10th grade. As I put God on hold for a few more years, a couple of friends were sent to help me while God was waiting. Thus, as some of you may be struggling with a new phase in life, don’t forget to call on the name of the Lord to get you through the challenges that you’re currently facing.

by Jay Mankus

Signs of a Robust Faith

Healthy, strong and vigorous are words synonymous with robust. Unlike modern household goods, antiques were crafted to last. Manufacturers took pride in every piece, designed to be durable, rugged and sturdy. Each unique product was treasured and passed down for generations. After living through two world wars, my grandfather understood the frailty of life, cherishing each of his remaining worldly possessions.

We who are strong [in our convictions and of robust faith] ought to bear with the failings and the frailties and the tender scruples of the weak; [we ought to help carry the doubts and qualms of others] and not to please ourselves, Romans 15:1.

The author of Hebrews compares a Christian faith to running a marathon. As a former runner, aches, cramps and losing breath are hard to overcome. However, when you run with perseverance, your eyes are fixed on the finish line, keeping you going when others decide to quit the race. Robust runners throw off any distractions that hold them back or are weighing them down. When you set your mind on things above, pain is replaced by eternal rewards.

Now may the God Who gives the power of patient endurance (steadfastness) and Who supplies encouragement, grant you to live in such mutual harmony and such full sympathy with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, That together you may [unanimously] with united hearts and one voice, praise and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah), Romans 15:5-6.

The greatest quality robust believers exhibit is a deep rooted conviction. Instead of being blown and tossed by the wind, the robust remain firm, holding on to a biblical foundation. As the world changes, the robust stay grounded in the living Word of God. In the passage above, the apostle Paul points out obvious signs of a robust faith. When conviction results in action, fruits of the Spirit naturally flow. If you want to be robust, stay true to your spiritual convictions that flow out of meditating on the Bible.

by Jay Mankus

Perhaps It’s Time to Sober Up?

I have what medical professionals refer to as an addictive personality. An addictive personality is a hypothesized set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions. I can’t just have one drink; everything I do is to the extreme. Whether it’s playing golf every day in high school, running 6 miles for fun in college or playing sand volleyball up to 8 hours a day each summer that I lived in Ohio, my motto for life is all or nothing. This aspect of my DNA puts me at risk of becoming an alcoholic.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a riotous brawler; and whoever errs or reels because of it is not wise, Proverbs 20:1.

When it comes to alcohol, I was a quick learner. Sure, there was a temptation in college to act cool by drinking. Yet. after one semester of partying, I grew out of this stage by sobering up. While I still went clubbing along the Flats in Cleveland, Ohio each summer, I usually went as the designated driver. From time to time, I let my guard down by drinking to excess. Following a severe hangover that last 2 days and an alcohol poisoning scare at a wedding reception, my drinking days ended.

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 [in 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 5:8-9.

The Bible uses sober in a different context. While sober can refer to the practice of abstinence, one of Jesus’ disciples writes about becoming alert, clear-headed and spiritually awake. In this context, alcohol isn’t the enemy. Rather, the Devil possesses angelic powers, roaming the earth like a predator eager to pounce on the unprepared. Although quitting drinking can be extremely difficult, demonic influences and oppression seek to keep the powerless addicted. In view of this, it’s to sober up by joining Jesus, teaming up through a personal relationship so that freedom and victory is achieved.

by Jay Mankus

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

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