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Blessed to Be Alive

The half-century mark is five decades on this special planet called earth.  As the clock strikes twelve midnight, ending August 13th to commence August 14th will mean that I have reached fifty years of age in 2019.  According to numerology, the number fifty symbolizes the total man.  This favorable number marks grace, kindness and regeneration. Karl von Eckartshausen, an author, German Catholic and philosopher, who lived to see the founding of the United States of America referred to reaching fifty as the number of illumination.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations,” Jeremiah 1:5.

I was born the day Hurricane Camille formed as a tropical depression.  A few days later this massive storm struck the Gulf Coast, the second most intense tropical cyclone on record to hit the United States.  Perhaps, this was a foreshadowing of the life that I would live.  I have survived earthquakes, floods, a microburst and a tornado.  I escaped a head on collision, a freak boating and tubing accident to make it to what I call Hawaii 50.  Nonetheless, I have a lot to be thankful for, truly blessed to be alive.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them, Psalm 139:13-16.

My spiritual birth occurred on December 4th, 1984, during my sophomore year of high school.  My spiritual father was my high school swim coach and Science teacher.  As the leader of Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Concord High, Mr. Horne coached, directed and guided new believers toward seeking God’s will for our lives.  While I didn’t always take a straight line or path, the Holy Spirit empowered me to become a Bible teacher, youth director an aspiring writer.  I’m truly blessed to be married to Leanne who gave birth to our 3 wonderful children.  I’m not sure what the Lord has planned for me in the years to come, but I pray that I keep in step with God’s Spirit so that I don’t miss my next calling.

by Jay Mankus

Dueling Forces

Whether you accept this premise or not, there are dueling forces that exist on earth.  Previous illustrations have depicted an angel with wings whispering into one ear, with a demon urging individuals to do the exact opposite.  Former atheist C.S. Lewis referred to this invisible tug of war as dualism.  This theological term believes there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war.

But I say, walk habitually in the [Holy] Spirit [seek Him and be responsive to His guidance], and then you will certainly not carry out the desire of the sinful nature [which responds impulsively without regard for God and His precepts], Galatians 5:16.

The apostle Paul applies spiritual elements to dualism in the passage above, revealing the Holy Spirit as the positive force and sinful nature as a series of negative impulses.  The presence of this spiritual battles make appreciating the little things in life difficult.  As soon as your heart is pierced by conviction, minds are bombarded by disparaging thoughts to diminish that which you should be thankful for.  Perhaps, this may explain the apostle Paul’s advice in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 about taking your thoughts captive.

For the sinful nature has its desire which is opposed to the Spirit, and the [desire of the] Spirit opposes the sinful nature; for these [two, the sinful nature and the Spirit] are in direct opposition to each other [continually in conflict], so that you [as believers] do not [always] do whatever [good things] you want to do, Galatians 5:17.

One of Satan’s objectives is to turn joyful Christians into cynical souls, void of any excitement, hope or life.  When cold water is poured out over a blazing fire, it does little to extinguish the flames.  However, as steady rains persist like Tropical Storm Florence, drenching tired and weary believers with a deluge of trials, it doesn’t take long for even the strong to become comfortably numb.  In view of this harsh reality, prepare your heart, soul and mind for the powers of darkness, Ephesians 6:12.  Submit to God, resist the Devil and let your faith become rooted in Christ so that future storms won’t hinder your ability to appreciate the little things in life.

by Jay Mankus

It’s Only A Car

When I was a child, I amassed a sizable collection of Hot Wheels.  Birthday and Christmas gifts brought a challenge course, race tracks and a special case to organize all my vehicles.  Before Atari and Cable television existed, I spent many rainy days racing cars inside.  Since most parents couldn’t afford a new car, Hot Wheels were a marketing tool to introduce children to sports cars.

And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator, Colossians 3:10.

Although many of my friends became obsessed with automobiles in my teenage years, my dad’s background as an immigrant to this country kept me grounded.  This upbringing ingrained in me an ability to be thankful for what I had.  However, I did have a wealthy neighbor whose parents always brought their son the latest and greatest electronic devices.  When these gifts were flaunted in front of me, I was jealous of his families wealth.  Yet, you can’t buy love as toys are just an earthly possessions.

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Philippians 2:14-15.

During my last winter break in college, I got into an argument with my parents.  Like a typical adolescent, I stormed out of the house to blow off some steam.  On the way to my friend Dave’s house, I got into a fender bender, hitting the car in front of me.  This situation could of have been worse, but the man that I hit didn’t care about fixing his old car.  Despite receiving a ticket for reckless driving, the words of this man struck a nerve in my heart by saying, “it’s only a car.”

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him, Colossians 3:17.

A few years later I was on my way to work in Chicago when a flock of geese starting walking across the road.  As I slowed down, the lady behind wasn’t paying attention, skidding and ramming into my back bumper.  Since my vehicle was approaching the 200,000 mile mark, I remembered the words of the good Samaritan from Delaware.  Paying it forward, I passed on the same message to this young woman, “don’t worry about it, it’s only a car.”

by Jay Mankus

 

When Tomorrow Doesn’t Matter

The moment a student enters the work force something happens internally.  I’m not sure if its related to specific occupations, but mindsets begin to change.  As soon as individuals get comfortable, there’s a common practice to think ahead like “I’m going to do this or that.”  However, every once in a while you’re confronted with a situation that makes you realize tomorrow doesn’t matter.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money,” James 4:13.

When I woke up Tuesday morning, it felt like a normal day.  I checked on my son before picking up my daughter from volleyball camp.  Upon my return, my son was in tears, insisting on wanting to go to the hospital.  Usually able to shake off pain, something inside of Daniel knew things weren’t right.  Twenty four hours later, my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes, James 4:14.

One of Jesus’ earthly brothers writes about one of his regrets in life.  For nearly thirty years, his big brother was the son of God, yet he never believed until after the resurrection.  Subsequently, James came to the conclusion that tomorrow doesn’t matter as long as today is present.  Therefore, despite the grief and uncertainty I am currently enduring, there is still plenty of time to grow, learn and be thankful before the sun sets.

by Jay Mankus

 

You’ll Never Know Unless You Try

When I was younger, I thought I was better than I actually was.  I would talk smack, emotionally annoy opponents and wouldn’t back down from a confrontation.  Over time I have mellowed, learned the importance of humility and found contentment in my retirement from sports.  Yet, I’m thankful that I wasn’t afraid to fail as a professional golfer.

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come, 1 Timothy 4:8.

As I step away from competition, my son James faces a similar dilemma.  Despite being a state champion pole vaulter and 3 time all conference golfer, playing division one sports in college is a whole new ball game.  Thus, he has to decide do I risk embarrassment, humiliation or do I play it safe by avoiding disappointment?  My message to him is you’ll never know unless you try.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me, Philippians 3:12.

In my first golf mini-tour event, I shot 48 on the front nine, shaking so badly it was hard to swing a club.  I could have hung my head, quit or withdrawn from this competition.  Yet, I battled, birdieing the 10th, finding my rhythm on the back nine.  I never made any money nor did I reach the P.G.A. tour, but I walked away from this game knowing I did everything in my power to succeed.  Thus, whether you are my son, a friend or a stranger I meet along the road called life, you’ll never know your ultimate destiny unless you try by utilizing your God given talents.

by Jay Mankus

 

The Cry of the Ungrateful

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard,” Matthew 20:1

Any time you get your hopes up, there is always the possibility for disappointment.   Expectations can be a dangerous thing, especially when this breeds impure motives.  Whenever you bring an earthly mindset into an untimely trial, the cry of the ungrateful is conceived.

So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner, Matthew 20:10-11.

In the parable of the workers in the Vineyard, Jesus addresses the cry of the ungrateful.  Human nature leads one to believe that those who work harder or longer will receive more than newcomers.  However, Jesus dismisses this comparison of those by using the analogy of heaven.  Though the apostle Paul does refer to eternal crowns, receiving  the gift of eternal life should lead to a thankful heart.

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you,” Matthew 20:13-14.

As difficult as it was for some of these workers to get over the fact that each was paid the some wage despite the amount of hours in the vineyard, there is a truth to embrace.  The solution to overcoming an ungrateful spirit is developing a heart like Barnabas.  Despite his reputation of an encourager, Acts 4:36-37, the apostle Paul possessed far greater God given talents.  Instead of blocking his way, Barnabas moved aside so that Paul’s gifts could be fanned into flame.  Therefore, don’t allow jealousy to give birth to an ungrateful heart.  Rather, in humility consider others more important than yourself.

by Jay Mankus

 

A Second Chance at Sight

In the 1988 film, Scrooged, Bill Murray is looking for a second chance in life.  Meanwhile, Alfre Woodard, playing Murray’s secretary Grace Cooley, prays for a Christmas miracle.  Inspired by visits from Christmas ghosts of the past, current and future, Murray risks his job by highjacking a live Christmas program to communicate the meaning of Christmas.  In the process, Cooley’s son who hadn’t spoken a word in years, breaks his silence at the conclusion of this live event.

As for me, I’ve received a second chance at sight.  Only a few people were aware of the pain I endured for 2 months this fall.  Unable to bear it any longer, I went to my eye doctor to see if I needed glasses.  Thinking old age was the main culprit, a set of tests revealed that my retinas were swollen, filled with fluids.  As the initial medicine made my condition worse to begin with, the nightmare of not being able to read things like the Bible was a real possibility.  However, 2 weeks later, God has given me a second chance at sight.

Therefore, as you open presents this Christmas season, don’t overlook the most precious gifts of all.  Whether its your senses, friendships or the memories of those who are no longer with you, Christmas is a time of second chances.  A season of forgiveness with the birth of a Savior, Matthew 1:21, who came to give you a new leash on life.  This Christmas, I got a second chance at sight.  As for you, may the power of the Holy Spirit reveal to you what you should be most thankful for.

by Jay Mankus

 

Do You Remember When?

Time has a way of skewing our memories.  When life is great, people expect things to continue, letting the good times roll.  On the other hand, as soon as the tide turns, individuals are shocked by unfortunate events like death, illness or trials.

Every so often, I will do something to aggravate my ribs that I broke last winter.  This soreness serves as a reminder of a scary moment in my life.  Unable to breathe, cringing in pain, I watched helplessly while a dozen Emergency Room attendants prepared for my surgery.  As the painkillers knocked me out, I wasn’t sure if I would ever wake up again.

Nine months later, I am thankful for life, a great job and wonderful family.  If it wasn’t for the cold weather, I might have forgotten this traumatic event.  Yet, the Lord brought this to my attention while reading Psalm 105.  Just as the Lord inspired Jewish leaders to remind Israel of God’s covenant to Abraham, the Holy Spirit brought to recall the healing power of the Great I Am.

by Jay Mankus

I Couldn’t Do It Justice

Once upon a time, there was a mother who gave birth to a son who was blind.  Heart-broken but not hopeless, this loving mom became the eyes to illuminate her son’s darkness.  Similar to a radio broadcast, she tried to paint a vivid picture of the world her son could not see.  Day after day, this scene repeated itself until news of a medical miracle arrived.

After saving up enough money, this woman made an appointment with an eye doctor who had success with a cutting edge operation.  Following a consultation, a surgery was schedule for this boy who had only known darkness.  Anticipation was in the air, yet to achieve maximum vision, bandages were required to remain over the boy’s eyes for a couple of days post this procedure.  Time would tell if the boy would be teased or thankful.

What happened next was like a scene from out of the Bible, John 9:6-7.  As the doctor unwrapped the cloth, rays of light penetrated the boys face.  Exuberant, the boy ran to the window to look outside for the very first time.  Speechless, a joyful mother listened as tears began to stream down her face.  “Mom, it’s more beautiful than I ever imagined!  I can’t believe how many details you left out.”  In response, wiping away tears, she replied, “I couldn’t do it justice my darling for God’s creation is beyond our understanding.”

by Jay Mankus

Learning to Celebrate the Present

 The spirit of envy has a way of convincing individuals that their life doesn’t measure up to others.  When compared to this co-worker, that neighbor and everyone’s favorite relative, your life disappoints, leaving depression which hovers over the human soul.  Instead of finding contentment in the life you are living, jealousy urges people to turn their eyes toward the other side of the fence where the grass always seems greener.

 

Yesterday, I attended a wedding of a friend I had done some work for in the past year.  Since I had to work my current job leading up to the afternoon ceremony, I didn’t have any expectations.  Rather, I came with an open mind, free from any preconceived judgments or stereotypes.  I was there to simply support my friend and wife to be.  As a result, my heart was fertile, ready to receive the message of the pastor.

Before the exchange of vows,  a 5 minute sermonette explained why this couple stood at the altar.  Entitled A Witness to Christian Marriage, these words were profound, convicting me of the life I had been living.  Over the last 3 years, I have glorified my past, bypassed the present and hoped for a brighter future.  In the malaise of my unemployment, I neglected to celebrate the present.  Thanks to this amazing invocation, God has inspired me to be thankful for my past, embrace the future and learn to celebrate the here and now of life!

by Jay Mankus

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