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Στόχο: Finding a New Target in 2020

Στόχο is the Greek word for target. When translated into English, this term could apply to aim, destination, goal or landing place. As individuals celebrate New Year’s Eve, minds and thoughts will begin to turn their attention toward a new year. Once all of the celebrations have ended, determined souls will search for a new target in 2020.

And they said to me, The remnant there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its [fortified] gates are destroyed by fire. When I heard this, I sat down and wept and mourned for days and fasted and prayed [constantly] before the God of heaven, Nehemiah 1:3-4.

Unfortunately, sometimes your future may be blurred, clouded or uncertain due to unforeseen events. Accidents, failing health or trials can prove to be too much for one person to bear. Whenever you experience a devastating, horrific or troubling circumstance, follow in the footsteps of Nehemiah. After receiving news of Jerusalem vulnerability, this man fell to his knees, fasting and praying for a plan to rebuild this wall.

Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to listen to the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You day and night for the Israelites, Your servants, confessing the sins of the Israelites which we have sinned against You. Yes, I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, statutes, and ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses, Nehemiah 1:6-7.

Before focusing on a solution, Nehemiah acknowledges the sins of Israel which brought this fate upon Jerusalem. Before any new target can be discovered in 2020, everyone needs to get right with God. As prayers are lifted up, hearts unload their pain and minds begin to think clear again, conditions will improve for a new vision to be seen. May the beginning of this year inspire you to pave the way for a new target to be located.

by Jay Mankus

Songs that Save Souls

While singing a Christmas carol in church yesterday, a stanza from O Little Town of Bethlehem struck a cord with my soul. After examining the lyrics, I discovered two different versions. Unless you sing the traditional version, the sixth stanza is skipped completely. As the words “Where meek souls will receive Him,” flashed on the overhead screen, my heart was moved.

Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), and with the mouth he confesses (declares openly and speaks out freely his faith) and confirms [his] salvation, Romans 10:9-10.

Immediately, a rhema, an utterance from God overwhelmed me. Humble and meek hearts are crucial to receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior, Romans 10:9-11. If hearts are broken, callous, distracted or worn down, the miracle of Christmas is ignore, lost or missed completely. One of the ways God has changed and transformed my own heart is through Christian music which has touched my soul.

Of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! – Psalm 103:1

As I look back on the past three decades, there are some songs that became like a refuge, soothing my soul each time I listened to the lyrics. The first song is When God Ran by Benny Hester. After Hester got divorced, most of his music was removed from Christian bookstores, but this classic song moves me each time I hear it. In college, Feel the Nails by Ray Boltz served as a source of conviction to draw me back to God each time I strayed away.

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! – Psalm 103:2.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up was attending a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After my father was transferred to Cleveland, my parents started attending a local church where the priest looked just like pictures of Jesus. This Christmas Eve service began at 10:30, singing Christmas carols until 11pm. The final hour was a traditional mass that ended with Joy to the World. As you attend church this Christmas, may God refresh your memory of songs that save souls.

by Jay Mankus

Anybody is Capable of Anything

No matter how hard coaches, parents and teachers seek to be impartial, there are certain individuals who demonstrate likeable qualities.  Thus, from time to time, adults are blinded by a perception that some students are perfect, uncapable of doing something wrong.  In the days of the Old Testament, David was a prime candidate, a man who developed a good reputation, possessing a heart for God.  Yet, when pressed by the prophet Nathan, David’s most recent transgression is exposed for everyone to see.  This account reveals that anyone, no matter how godly he or she appears, is capable of anything.

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, As the Lord lives, the man who has done this is a son [worthy] of death. He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no pity. Then Nathan said to David, You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king of Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul, 2 Samuel 12:5-7.

The apostle Paul and King David shared similar qualities.  Paul was recognized as a person of character following his conversation to Christ in the first century.  With each missionary journey, Paul’s faith was admired by the leaders of churches throughout the Middle East.  Yet, during a letter written to the Church in Rome, Paul opens up about his own inner demons.  This invisible force became known as the sinful nature, fleshly desires which convince souls to do the opposite of what they have been taught.  This alarming reality illustrates that anybody is capable of doing anything.

Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of mem, Romans 7:16-17.

Whenever I connect to the internet, tune into talk radio or watch television, unthinkable acts are reported on daily.  These head scratching actions don’t make sense logically until you study the powerful grip of carnal desires.  While writing to church leaders in Rome, Paul confesses that the sinful nature often causes him to do that which is wrong.  Despite having good intentions, Paul is currently losing this spiritual tug of war.  Instead of being surprised, it’s time to accept the fact that anybody is capable of doing anything.  The sooner you understand this, the quicker you will fall upon your knees, pleading with God to remove these ungodly desires with the mind of Christ.

by Jay Mankus

Transitioning from Summer Camp Back to Reality

Ten years ago my wife and kids persuaded me to become a summer camp counselor for a week at Cedarbrook.  This decision enabled my youngest Lydia to attend, a year younger than the accepted age.  This week just happened to be during a heat wave in the high 90’s every day.  To make matters worse I stayed in the only cabin without air conditioning.  Between the heat, humidity and lack of sleep, I was sick the rest of the summer.  This experience caused me to never return, retiring after my first and only year.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” Joshua 1:9.

Over the past decade, my two oldest boys transitioned from campers to counselors in training.  Teenagers go through a three year process before a bird name is selected and earn the right to become an official camp counselor.  James, my oldest, graduated and spent two summers as a counselor.  Meanwhile, Daniel completed his counselor in training last summer and is currently a cabin leader this week at camp.  Finally, my daughter Lydia has begun year one of training to follow in her brother’s footsteps.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, Philippians 4:6-7.

One of my favorite traditions is going out to lunch after Cedarbrook’s closing ceremonies.  This meal allows my children to share their experience from the week.  While they may be complaining and frustration, I redirect the topic toward their favorite or most memorable moments of camp.  As I listen, this conversation provides a transition from summer camp back to reality.  Often, my kids talk about what they would do differently to improve things for next year.  This debriefing session gives my wife and I the opportunity to share our perspectives and hopefully promote spiritually growth during this upcoming school year.  May this year’s experience inspire souls to follow Christ daily.

by Jay Mankus

 

How Did I Get This Way?

When puberty begins in junior high, teenagers undergo a series of changes.  Depending upon the choices made and friendships established, this will shape the path individuals take in high school.  For those who are able to continue their education in college, majors, professors and relationships will further dictate who you become.  Despite this journey, many adults awake to an epiphany “how get I get this way?”

Blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God] is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked [following their advice and example], nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit [down to rest] in the seat of scoffers (ridiculers), Psalm 1:1.

Skarlett Riot sings about this in the song Voices.  The opening stanza refers to whispers which restrict what you hear.  The next stanza refers to being paralyzed, unable to control your mind.  Finally, this British rock band uses imagery of Cain’s conversation with God in Genesis 4:6-7 to suggest demons can get into your head.  The moment individuals begin to listen to these demonic influences, souls can relate to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-20, doing the opposite of you want.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law [His precepts and teachings] he [habitually] meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted [and fed] by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season; Its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers [and comes to maturity], Psalm 1:2-3.

The Psalmist has a much easier explanation for how did I get this way.  The author lists three basic distractions in life: following the crowd, hanging around those who bend the rules and joining this behavior by lowering your standards.  The best way to avoid giving into temptation is by embracing the Bible.  Those who make a habit of following biblical teaching will be to endure spiritual droughts that cause faith to waver.  Thus, if you are shocked by the person that you have become, follow the Psalmist advice to flee any voices in your head.

by Jay Mankus

A Nation of False Witnesses

I was first introduced to the ten commandments through CCD, the Catholic version of Sunday School.  These ten standards were drilled into my mind as God’s expectations for human beings to follow.  As a young boy, I didn’t understand love or know how these principles would shape my life.  Yet, this portion of the Bible serves as the cornerstone for being civilized.  Anyone who adheres to the final six commandments follows the golden rule, treating others as you want to be treated.

12 “Honor (respect, obey, care for) your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged in the land the Lord your God gives you.

13 “You shall not commit murder (unjustified, deliberate homicide).

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal [secretly, openly, fraudulently, or through carelessness].

16 “You shall not testify falsely [that is, lie, withhold, or manipulate the truth] against your neighbor (any person), Exodus 20:12-16.

After attending seminary for two years, my understanding of the ten commandments grew.  Jesus’ response to a first century religious leader below highlights two distinct sections.  The first four commandments are focused on loving God.  The final six commandments emphasize loving your neighbor.  Within his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis refers to Cardinal and Theological virtues.  Anyone can follow the final six commandments if you are determined to do so.  However, loving God requires the Holy Spirit which is only available to those who enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Romans 10:9-10.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 And Jesus replied to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ 40 The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments,” Matthew 22:36-40.

As I listen to cable news, talk shows and people throughout the course of my day, there is a growing crisis.  Either Americans don’t know the ten commandments, don’t care about these Old Testament commands or the searing of consciences has reached epidemic levels?  There are various mantras, narratives and talking points that are spewed daily.  If you change the channel or turn the page of a newspaper, these messages bombard human minds day after day.  When a different opinion or point of view is offered, attacks are made in the form of lies.  Maybe I am alone, but it appears that the United States is becoming a nation of false witnesses as both sides can’t be right  Perhaps, the ten commandments is the only thing that may reverse this trend by convicting souls to love God and love others.

by Jay Mankus

The Synagogue of the Freedmen

A synagogue is the building or location where a Jewish assembly meets for religious worship and instruction.  In biblical times, small towns and villages with less than ten men met out in the open, often along the banks of a river or sea.  One of these places of worship was known as the Synagogue of the Freedmen.  These individuals were of collection of freed Jewish slaves from Alexandria, Asia, Cilicia and Cyrene.  Past experiences as slaves created an instant bond for these men.

However, some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (freed Jewish slaves), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [the province of] Asia, rose up and questioned and argued with Stephen, Acts 6:9.

Based upon the passage above, the members of this synagogue felt threatened by Jesus.  Perhaps this community of believers was afraid of change, especially to Jewish traditions that they embraced.  Thus, their reaction to Jesus being the long awaited Messiah was similar to the chief priest and Pharisees who crucified Jesus.  Subsequently, the Synagogue of the Freedmen began a smear campaign against Stephen.  This newly appointed apostle was bombarded by a character assassination provoked and incited by the people.

“You stiff-necked and stubborn people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always actively resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained and delivered to you by angels, and yet you did not obey it!” – Acts 7:51-53

Stephen was put on trial, forced to give an account of the false accusations made against him.  It’s unclear whether or not the Synagogue of the Freedmen were pawns urged by religious leaders or willing participants.  Regardless of the motives, Stephen blames this behavior on resisting the Holy Spirit.  Any type of change is difficult.  However, when you make a decision to dedicate your life to Jesus, this means living by a new set of standards, the Bible.  Stephen was stoned to death and other Christians were persecuted.  As modern souls wrestle to make spiritual decisions today, the fear of change remains.  For anyone still on the fence, may your hearts and minds embrace the Holy Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

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