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The Smallest Level of Faith is Hope

Martin Seligman’s research on learned helplessness was a inspired by a study using laboratory rats. In this particular experiment, rats were placed into water for an extended period of time. After ten minutes of fervently swimming to stay alive, the rats began to give up, drowning. A second experiment was launched to focus on learned helplessness. This time rats were removed from the water after 9 minutes, each were dried off and given food before repeating this process. The second time these rats fought for 15 minutes and the third they remained swimming for half an hour.

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself,] Ephesians 2:8-9.

A series of parables shared by Jesus became etched into the mind of a first century doctor. Three particular stories inspired an entire chapter, Luke 15. The common element of these 3 parables is the length at which God will go out of his way to rescue the lost. Whether you have gone astray like a lost sheep, misplaced a valuable possession, or have chosen to go your own way like the prodigal son, God is waiting with open arms to welcome you back. If God can save undeserving sinners of the past, there’s no reason not to believe that God won’t save you or me either.

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.

The message of salvation provides a glimmer of hope for the faithless. Just like the rats who were rescued from the water in the experiment above, God sent Jesus to seek and save those who are lost, Luke 19:10. Prior to hope entering your life, doubt resides within most minds, taking control over your thought life. Therefore, the smallest level of faith is hope, Hebrews 11:1-6. Since you have to start some where, allow hope to enable you to overcome learned helplessness.

by Jay Mankus

Five Decades of Life

From Hurricane Camille to the Coronavirus, my life has now spanned more than a half century. While I was being born in New Jersey, one of the most violent tropical storms to hit the Gulf Coast formed as a tropical depression. While I don’t remember much of the early years, a little over half of my first ten years were spent in Oxford, New Jersey before my father was transferred to Wilmington, Delaware. Back in the 1970’s, Delaware was like living in the south, overflowing with hospitality, love and openness. As a boy with a severe speech impediment, this was the fresh start that I needed.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” John 635.

During the 1980’s, it was the best and worse of times. Living as a loner most of junior high, I didn’t value life until I was introduced to cross country at Concord High. Between my neighborhood, school, and running friends, I began to come out of my shell, ready to face my fear of expressing myself. Thanks to my swimming coach and Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s leader Ken Horne, I invited God to become part of my life. Although I didn’t really know what I was doing at times, retreats, summer camps and youth group propelled me into the 1990’s.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly, John 10:10.

My third decade on earth was my most adventurous, taking a semester off from college to travel the country. Initially, I felt called to become a social worker with the Methodist Action Plan. Since I didn’t make much money, I got a part time job as a youth director in Rising Sun, Maryland. As time passed quickly, I realized that I didn’t really know what to do which led me to the Twin Cities in Minnesota to attend a youth ministry trade school. Looking back, 1993 was probably the best year of my life which culminated in meeting my wife Leanne at a National Youth Ministry Convention.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:6.

As I enjoyed my early years as a newlywed, it was clear that my calling to be a professional golfer faded quickly. When the haze dissipated, another calling to attend seminary moved Leanne and I back to the east coast. Shortly afterward, the first of our 3 children was born. A rare eye disease cut this plan, causing a few years of transition before landing on my feet as a High School Bible Teacher and Golf Coach. When all the stars aligned, I found myself doing what I loved for a decade. Yet, like anything in life, all good things come to an end, leaving Red Lion at the beginning of 2012.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope, Jeremiah 29:11.

This past decade has been the most difficult, being unemployed and unsure of my place in the world. Perhaps, the most challenging aspect of the last 10 years is not quite knowing where I belong. Out of this uncertainty, Express Yourself 4 Him was conceived. During the storms and trials of 2010’s, my good friend Spencer Saints introduced me to screen writing. Beside my current job at Amazon, I don’t how much to display as accomplishments. Nonetheless, I keep writing. Hoping, praying and pouring out my heart and soul into ideas for future Christian movies and television series. Maybe in the 2020’s I will finally see the fruits of my labor. Yet, for now, I am thankful to be alive for 51 years.

by Jay Mankus

When Did Your Ministry Begin?

During his Sunday broadcast on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Jentezen Franklin told stories of visiting his grandfather as child. Growing up in a family of musicians and preachers enabled Jentezen to develop ministry skills prior to becoming a teenager. These experiences sowed a desire within Jentezen to become a pastor. Looking back, this is where his ministry was conceived. Shortly after listening to this sermon, I received a text informing me that my spiritual mentor Ken Horne had passed away. This news led me to ponder, when and where did my ministry begin.

And Peter answered them, Repent (change your views and purpose to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead of rejecting it) and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of and release from your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:38.

As an individual with an addictive personality, when I accepted Jesus into my heart in December of my sophomore year, it taken take long for me to become a Jesus freak. This spiritual pursuit began attending Fellowship of Christian Athlete huddle at Concord High, led by my swim coach Ken Horne. Afraid of stuttering, I spent the next year listening, absorbing everything that I heard. From here I started attending a Methodist youth group, experienced my first Lay Witness Mission revival weekend and went on as many Christians retreats as possible. Several of these moments involved Ken, delegating to me various leaderships roles as my faith grew.

Such [former] ages of ignorance God, it is true, ignored and allowed to pass unnoticed; but now He charges all people everywhere to repent (to change their minds for the better and heartily to amend their ways, with abhorrence of their past sins), Acts 17:30.

While in college, Ken gave me my first opportunity to preach. This weekend in Friendship, Maryland was like having all the stars align in my favor. Beside having an amazing time and connecting with several young people, my stuttering disappeared. Whenever I opened my mouth, the Holy Spirit spoke through me as a vessel for God. My friend Maureen had passed away the previous year from cancer so the message God put on my heart was “It’s Time to Stop Playing Games by Getting Right with God.” At the end of my message I played the song Feel the Nails by Ray Boltz. Before the song concluded, several members of this church ran to the altar. This one event in 1990 cemented my calling and it was here where my ministry began.

by Jay Mankus

My Own Spiritual Mr. Miyagi

In 1984, I was in the middle of my freshman of high school. As the summer began, Karate Kid debuted in the theaters starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. While I don’t recall seeing this film right away, I could relate to Daniel LaRusso’s character. As a small hundred pound teenager, I was a push over, bullied on numerous occasions. Although I didn’t turn to karate to defend myself, God had another plan for me which was revealed a year later.

I [the Lord] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you, Psalm 32:8.

My former science teacher, Mr. Horne, started to mentor me during my sophomore year. After I joined the swim team which he coached, Ken took me under his wings. Similar to the role played by Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, Coach Horne became like a second father. Ken was instrumental in my spiritual growth, inviting me to Concord’s Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s huddle which he led. The night I accepted Jesus into my heart as Savior, Coach Horne was there to answer the various questions that I had about faith.

Speaking of this as he does in all of his letters. There are some things in those [epistles of Paul] that are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist and misconstrue to their own utter destruction, just as [they distort and misinterpret] the rest of the Scriptures. 17 Let me warn you therefore, beloved, that knowing these things beforehand, you should be on your guard, lest you be carried away by the error of lawless and wicked [persons and] fall from your own [present] firm condition [your own steadfastness of mind], 2 Peter 3:16-17.

After graduating high school, my relationship with Ken only became stronger. I would regularly stop by unannounced each summer, spending hours catching up and talking about life. When Ken transitioned from a teacher to a local youth pastor, I volunteered as much as I could to support his ministry. This decision provided several memorable Lay Witness Missions, serving on the team that led revival weekends throughout the Tri-state area. These experiences prepared me to become a high school Bible teacher and youth pastor later on in life.

So, being thus tenderly and affectionately desirous of you, we continued to share with you not only God’s good news (the Gospel) but also our own lives as well, for you had become so very dear to us, 1 Thessalonians 2:8.

When I got engaged to Leanne in 1994, I couldn’t image my wedding without Ken. Thus, my former coach, teacher and mentor became one of my three groomsmen. During our wedding reception, Ken encouraged guests to sing Christmas carols in place of dinging glasses to see Leanne and I kiss. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago I received news that Ken was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I can’t think of anything worse for a modern day apostle Paul to experience and undergo. Yet, I am thankful for all that Ken Horne has done for me as my own spiritual Mr. Miyagi. While Ken’s chances for survival are slim, there is a mansion in heaven awaiting him filled with countless blessings for his service on earth.

by Jay Mankus

The Parable of the Unknown

A young native American was tracking prey at the base of a mountain when he came across an undamaged egg which fell out of a nearby eagles’ nest. After trying to place this egg back where it belonged, the ledge was too steep to climb while holding this egg. Instead of abandoning this egg, this boy found a similar vacant nest closer to camp. Approaching quietly, this boy carefully placed this egg next to three addition eggs.

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot, Proverbs 14:30.

Several weeks later, all four eggs hatched. Instead of being the ugly duckling, the eaglet stood out among the other three flightless cormorants. As his adopted mother taught him to swim, another bird caught his eye, flying and soaring high above this lake. As the eagle above gracefully glided in the air, the swimming eagle became jealous, wishing he could fly instead of just swimming. While the others were natural swimmers, this eaglet struggled to find his way through life.

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life, Psalm 119:93.

This parable that I recently heard struck a nerve. Sometimes I am so focused on how gifted other people are that I forget my own blessings, gifts and talents. Meanwhile, when I spend too much time focusing on what I want or need, I neglect God’s expectations for me as a Christian. When there is no one else around to point you in the right direction like the adopted eaglet, the Bible is available to show you the way. May you follow in the footsteps of Joshua 1:8, meditating on God’s Word day and night.

by Jay Mankus

Catching Your Dreams

As a former athlete, I understand the concept of setting goals.  At the beginning of each season, I would use a notecard to write down my expectations.  Whether I was running, swimming or playing golf, I tried to raise the bar higher and higher each time I set a personal record.  The only hard part about setting a score or time to beat, eventually you reach a saturation point.  For example, I haven’t bested 69 for 18 holes in golf since my junior year of high school.  Meanwhile, I never came close to breaking 17 minutes for a 5K race after doing it once as a senior.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up, Galatians 6:9.

I guess what I am trying to say is that as an adult, I spend most of my time chasing dreams instead of actually catching them.  There is an old saying that refers to being close.  This idiom claims that being close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  If you want to be the best, losing over and over again to someone slightly better is frustrating.  When you get closer and closer to catching a dream, hope is conceived, turning doubters into believers.  Yet, if progress is never achieved, chasing dreams can become like a dog attempting to catch their own tail.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him, James 1:12.

The other night I watched the film I Can Only Imagined.  Bart Millard grew up in a dysfunctional family made worse when his mother refused to take Bart with her after moving out.  Left to his abusive father, Bart wanted to chase and catch dreams.  However, the negativity spewed by Bart’s dad bombarded his mind, leaving behind emotional, physical and spiritual scars.  Despite these obstacles, Bart traveled the country with a Christian group called Mercy Me attempting to follow in the footsteps of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.  Yet, it took cancer to inflict his father and redemption to transform his heart before the Lord gave Bart the words to I can only image.  Upon releasing this single on a 1999 album, the Worship Project, Bart finally caught his dream.  May Bart Millard‘s perseverance inspire you to catch your own dreams.

by Jay Mankus

 

The One that Got Away

One of the certainties in life is that you will experience disappointment at some point in time.  Despite having an ideal or perfect day, there will be outcomes that surprise you.  These twists and turns having lasting effects, especially when you are so close to victory.  Thus, everyone has a story, as painful as it may be about the one that got away.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, 1 Peter 1:6.

As a student in high school, I was one dimensional.  Although I eventually improved my grade point average, my sole concern was with sports.  I guess you can say I lived and died with each victory and loss.  While I was blessed to be apart of many great teams, I never won a state championship, finishing second in cross country, third in a swimming relay and fourth in golf.  If only I was healthy, stronger or I could putt, the ending may have been different.  Since there is no time travel device or vehicle to go back, all I can do is think about what might have been.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed, 1 Peter 1:7.

Each of these failures digs up a certain degree of anguish.  As a junior I watched my cross country team lose by 7 points as I sat on the sidelines after reconstructive ankle surgery.  This was excruciating, but losing the state golf championship as a senior probably stings more, letting a first round lead slip away, clawing back to within one on the back nine, only to fade down the stretch.  Exactly why God allows individuals to endure heartbreak is hard to say.  Yet, in every defeat, there is a life lesson, something to learn from so you can overcome the one that got away.

by Jay Mankus

 

Living Off the Grid, Unplugged for a Week

Prior to the advent of cell phones and internet, conversational skills were an important part of life.  While technological advances often enhance society, these two inventions are killing intimate relationships.  These modern devices are distracting individuals from bonding with other human beings whom they share a lot in common with, but haven’t taken the time to find out.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom, Psalm 90:12.

During a vacation over Spring Break, I spent a week without wi-fi.  Thus, posting my blogs was a difficult challenge as even some of the restaurants I ate at did not offer free access to the internet.  Despite this challenge, I survived, spending more time with my family and children than normal.  Swimming in the day and playing pool at night provided a healthy climate for communication.

Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil, Ephesians 5:16.

Although you probably won’t find me on a reality show like Survivor, living off the grid and unplugged for a week was a blessing.  Since I’ve always been a doer, with a drive to experience the outdoors, visiting new places this past week has given me a new appreciation for life.  Sure, you do need money to travel, but if you limit your access to the social media, you will discipline yourself to make the effort to go and do things you have always talked about, but never done.  Seize each new day while it lasts!

by Jay Mankus

Take Out the Trash… so that You Don’t Stink

Up until my senior year of high school, I spent the month of August in Maine.  After working countless hours throughout the year, my dad felt compelled to spent time with the family each summer fishing, golfing and swimming.  However, there wasn’t trash pick up so whenever the can was full its was time to go to the local dump.  Leaving any trash outside attracted bears, so each week I endured the gagging odor of the county’s waste center.

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you,” Joshua 3:5.

Although technological has come along way, it still doesn’t take long to stink up a kitchen.  Whether you’ve enjoying crabs, fish or some other messy meal, the discarded pieces can create an offensive smell in a matter of hours.  One careless, forgetful or lazy act will leave a stench behind throughout an entire house.  Therefore, the sooner you take out the trash, the less likely you will be from needing an entire household of air fresheners.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account, Hebrews 4:13.

In real life, you don’t have to be labeled trailer trash to stink.  Rather, anyone who allows sin to linger in their lives will eventually give off a foul spiritual odor.  While some will hide addictions and bad habits better than others, God lays bear every sinful act.  Subsequently, the only way to come clean is through confession and prayer, Jude 1:20.  Consecrate yourself today for God is waiting to do amazing things through you, but only after you acknowledge your shortcomings.

by Jay Mankus

 

One Shining Moment

As the 2014 Winter Olympics begin Friday, February 7th in Sochi, Russia, I am reminded of the drama previous events have delivered.  Whether it’s a human interest story, someone rising to the challenge of stiff competition or the 1980 United States Hockey Team who came out of no where to defeat the U.S.S.R. and earn a gold medal one game later.  Thus, as viewers tune in from all over the world to watch next weekend, who will be the next star, who shocks their fellow competitors with one shining moment of gold.

Looking back on my not so allustrious athletic career, most of the sports I played in high school were held off sight in a relatively obscure locations like local golf courses and State Parks.  The only sport I participated in with bleachers was swimming, my weakest talent by far.  Yes, my 200 Individual Medal Relay did earn a bronze medal at the 1986 State Meet held at the University of Delaware’s pool, but my lack of speed cost us the gold.  Yet, in one of my last high school races as a senior, God moved me to swim faster than I ever had before.  Despite dabbling in butterfly, back and free style, the 100 yard breast was my strongest stroke and race.

Leading our arch rival Brandywine by a point heading into the final 2 events, I was facing a cross town swimmer who was 1 second faster on average throughout the season.  Typically, the number 1 swimmer swam the inside lanes, a little faster than the 2 outside lanes due to the wake splashing back into swimmers.  However, just before stepping on the starting block, their top breast stroker switched lanes to shadow me in lane 1.  After 25 yards I was slightly behind, pulling even by the halfway mark.  Since the bleachers were right on top of lane 1, I began to hear a roar from lane 2 as I approached the final turn.  The noise of the crowd, filled me adrenaline, causing me to go faster and faster as I touched the final wall, finish line.  As I looked up, the noise was deafening as members of the final relay applauded my victory by 4 seconds, shattering my PR by 3 seconds.  In addition, our other swimmer passed both of Brandywine’s breast strokers in the final 5 yards to earn second and mathematically clinch the win.

As great as this experience felt, there is only one other shining moment that compares.  While in college I was asked to help out at a lock-in by my high school swim coach who had become a youth pastor.  During the festivities, I was drawn to a kid who was called Satan by his peers.  Yeah, he had a mean streak inside of him that was pure evil, but the Holy Spirit moved me to minister to him.  Layer by layer, like peeling an onion, God began to show me the defense mechanism that he had created to prevent his heart from being broken again.  During an altar call late in the night, I led this young man to invite Jesus into his heart, Romans 10:9-10.  Able to fulfill the words of James 5:19-20, I sensed another round of applause, this time from heaven.  “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who do not repent,” Luke 15:7.  May you experience multiple spiritual shining moments in not just during the Olympics, but throughout life.

by Jay Mankus

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