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Exercise and Discipline

I am currently in the middle of an 8 week exercise program designed to help get my fifty year old body back into shape.  Similar to a building block, each week adds additional disciplines, exercises and reps.  It’s one thing to say that you are going to run first thing in the morning or workout after coming home from work, but executing this plan is much more difficult than I thought.  Thus, the only way to endure, improve and strengthen my body is through exercise and discipline.

Therefore I always exercise and discipline myself [mortifying my body, deadening my carnal affections, bodily appetites, and worldly desires, endeavoring in all respects] to have a clear (unshaken, blameless) conscience, void of offense toward God and toward men, Acts 24:16.

During his opening argument in a hearing before Governor Felix in Rome, the apostle Paul refers to a different kind of exercise and discipline.  This statement points to 3 aspects which every individual must overcome: carnal affections, bodily appetites and worldly desires.  While these inner demons appear to be similar, each attack, tempt and wrestle for control of your body.  When faith is not exercised and discipline not enforced, addiction and bad habits ravage unprepared souls.

Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit], 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

The apostle Paul uses an analogy of a long distance runner and boxer to illustrate what it takes to spiritually exercise and discipline your faith.  While I know nothing about boxing, I can speak to Paul’s comment about running with a definite aim.  Before running, stretching must occur to loosen up muscles to avoid injury.  Like my current exercise program, running should start at a short distance, then gradually incease distances each week.  Cutting corners, skipping a step or jumping ahead often results in a weaker body.  Thus, the most logical starting place for exercise and discipline is to take life one day at a time; improving with each passing day.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

The Day that Changed My Life

Prior to October 14th, 1985, I was a struggling teenager, emotionally unstable and immature. I guess you can say I was mentally soft and weak, needing to toughen up so that I could reach my full potential as an athlete. After wasting my first two years of high school, somewhere between carefree, lazy and inconsistent, I was determined to be great. This desire resulted in working out for the first time in addition to running and swimming 3 to 5 days a week. While on vacation in Maine for a month, I trained in the mountains, pushing myself to the limits like a drill sergeant.

While being reviled and insulted, He did not revile or insult in return; while suffering, He made no threats [of vengeance], but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges fairly, 1 Peter 2:23.

On this particular Columbus Day, I was running in a cross country race at Banning Park, located between Newark and Wilmington, Delaware. Earlier in the month, I helped Concord’s team upset the #1 ranked team in the state. Since the course at Banning was only 2.1 miles at that time, I felt like this was my best chance to win a race. The only problem is four of my teammates went on to become high school all-Americans. I could keep up for 2 miles, but the final 1.1 miles or 5K I fell off the pace. At the mile mark, I was in the lead pack as we approached the woods. Fallen leaves covered the hole that twisted my ankle, shattered my dreams and ended my season.

He personally carried our sins in His body on the cross [willingly offering Himself on it, as on an altar of sacrifice], so that we might die to sin [becoming immune from the penalty and power of sin] and live for righteousness; for by His wounds you [who believe] have been healed. 25 For you were continually wandering like [so many] sheep, but now you have come back to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls, 1 Peter 2:24-25.

Following reconstruction surgery on my ankle, I watched from the sidelines as my teammates lost the state title to Sales by 7 points. I did everything in my power to return for my senior year and perhaps earn a state title, only to burn myself out, going out too fast. After surgery, my ankle was protected by a brace that I wore into college. During the first cross country season following surgery, I heavily taped my ankle as extreme pressure resulted in bleeding race after race. The bleeding stopped a year later, but my scar remains today. While October 14th, 1985 did change my life, the J-shaped scar on my ankle reminds me of the pain Jesus endured on the cross. Just as the prophet Isaiah once said, “by His wounds we are healed.”

by Jay Mankus

What a Waste of Time

During my time pursuing a master’s in theology, I came across an interesting concept.  The Triangle Theory is a Time Management exercise to help examine where your time on earth is spent.  If you draw an isosceles triangle on a blank page of paper, the bottom represents 24 hours in a day.  Depending upon your sleep schedule, 1/3 or 1/4 of your life is spent sleeping.  School or work will take over 8-10 hours per day, leaving a few precious hours to enjoy life, purse passions or relax.   If you want a true barometer of how your time is spent, keep track of 16-18 hours each weekend that most Americans have.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run [their very best to win], but only one receives the prize? Run [your race] in such a way that you may seize the prize and make it yours! 25 Now every athlete who [goes into training and] competes in the games is disciplined and exercises self-control in all things. They do it to win a crown that withers, but we [do it to receive] an imperishable [crown that cannot wither], 1 Corinthians 9:24-25.

Last year I took my family out to lunch, explaining the Triangle Theory as we waited for our food.  Without being too anal, I urged my children to begin to keep track of how they are currently investing their free time.  The purpose of this discussion was to encourage my daughter and youngest son to become vision oriented, focusing their attention and time on fulfilling dreams.  Not leaving myself exempt from this, I began to share the sacrifices that I need to make to write a 100 page movie script each winter, usually lasting until late spring.  Despite how diligent I try to be, I regularly waste an entire weekend to indulge my human nature rather than focus on becoming an accomplished screen writer.

Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. 27 But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service], 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.

One troubling question remains, if I truly want to pursue a career in writing, why do I waste so much time?  Perhaps, my former hobby as a long distance runner may help answer my own question.  The thought of running miles never made sense to most of my friends.  Running is a battle of the body and mind, causing most to quit before the love of running is conceived.  The apostle Paul uses a similar analogy, stressing the strict discipline to persist until your ultimate goal is achieved.  While its not easy and you will have more failures than success, may the Triangle Theory serve as a tool to enable you to seize the free time that you have each day.  May you run in such a way, suffering now, as to receive crowns in heaven God has set aside for you.

by Jay Mankus

A Solution to Avoid Becoming Side Tracked

While there have been many discerning scholars, famous philosophers and biblical prophets throughout history, I don’t think anyone could image how social media is influencing modern times.  Whether its a pod cast, Instagram post, tweet or You Tube video going viral, every day is like a circus, filled with individuals seeking attention, fame and fortune.  Becoming side tracked from what you need to get accomplished daily if you have a cellular device in your hand or pockets makes staying focused even harder.  Just as curiosity led to Eve’s down fall in the Garden of Eden, Americans are amusing themselves toward a slow spiritual death through a state of constant distractions.

No soldier in active service gets entangled in the [ordinary business] affairs of civilian life; [he avoids them] so that he may please the one who enlisted him to serve, 2 Timothy 2:4.

The apostle Paul writes about daily distractions during the first century.  The mentality necessary to avoid getting emotional caught up in the affairs of society requires military readiness taught in the armed forces.  An active soldiers’ main concern is carrying out and fulfilling their commanding officers’ instructions.  From a spiritual perspective, Paul is encouraging believers to focus on serving God.  Romans 12:1 is symbolic of beginning and completing boot camp, pushing your body to its limits.  As you dedicate your life to God, the Holy Spirit begins to reveal the Lord’s will for life which is phase two.  The more focused your are on serving Jesus, the less concerned you will be with daily events beyond your control.

And if anyone competes as an athlete [in competitive games], he is not crowned [with the wreath of victory] unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer [who labors to produce crops] ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Think over the things I am saying [grasp their application], for the Lord will grant you insight and understanding in everything, 2 Timothy 2:5-7.

The apostle Paul finishes his illustration with an athlete and farmer.  While different, the more each puts into their trade, the skies the limit.  Sports is based upon determining who is the best through a series of competitions during a defined season.  Meanwhile, farmers must work if they want food.  If each treats their land like a prized possession, the outcome will likely be positive.  If you reap what you sow is an accurate principle, then every individual has a choice, to seize each moment or waste your life away.  Sure, deciphering what God’s will can take a life time, but if you develop the resolve to press on, the promise of 2 Timothy 2:7 can be a reality.  As I struggle and wrestle with overcoming the bad news reported each day, join me in a venture to avoid becoming side tracked anymore.

by Jay Mankus

When Your Let Your Body Go

If once active adolescents become inactive as adults, gaining weight is almost a certainty.  When I was a senior in high school, I was five feet eleven inches tall and one hundred and forty pounds.  A year later, I decided to not run cross country in college, gaining the freshman 25 immediately.  Playing intramurals the next four years kept my weight stable, give or take five pounds.  Over the next decade, I gained another ten pounds, but remained active as a teacher, youth director and assistant golf professional.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Unfortunately, I gained another 20 pounds the first year I was married.  However, it’s not what you think.  Since I lived in the country, neighbors didn’t keep their dogs on leashes.  Thus, as I attempted to run a few times a week, dogs chased me for a half mile at a time.  After sprinting on and off, I finally gave up as the setting was safe enough to run.  Using my life as a case study, our bodies get use to a specific schedule.  Whether this is running, training or working out, this exercise stabilizes our weight.  Yet, when people like me alter routines without a substitute to take it’s place, it’s easy to lose control of your body.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come, 1 Timothy 4:8.

Recently, I have come to the conclusion that I am fighting a losing battle as each time I lose weight, it returns within a month.  While I am not giving up, perhaps I need to change my perspective.  Exercise is a healthy habit to practice, but godliness has value in every aspect in life.  Therefore, I need to let go of my frustrations for a body out of shape and switch my concentration toward my soul.  Just as body builders draw the attention of those in fitness centers, Christians should elicit the same response to strangers in public.  Those who develop a daily time of Bible Study, prayer and worship start to become spiritually pumped up.  These habits often fuel a desire to become more like Jesus.  While I would love to physically return to the body I once possessed, it’s better to demonstrate the light of God’s love through random acts of kindness.

by Jay Mankus

Stages of Worship

As a former runner, I see a comparable relationship between running and worship.  The first time you do each, its not always the most pleasant experience.  While those in advanced stages have a different perspective, the novice may quit early on, claiming what’s the point.  Trying to excel at each requires knowledge, preparation and training.  During a church service last weekend, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to 3 stages of worship.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship, Romans 12:1.

Stage 1: Good

The apostle Paul encourages those who embrace the Christian faith to respond to God’s mercy.  When your sins were pardoned, this should elicit a spirit of thankfulness within forgiven souls.  As right and wrong acts are differentiated by the Bible, this exposure to truth hopefully fuels a fire within hearts to pursue holiness.  This environment sets the scene to ignite and stoke a desire to worship.  This is a good first step.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will, Romans 12:2.

Stage 2: Pleasing

If running or worship does not bring pleasure or a sense of progress, most will abandon the journey, filling their time with other worth while pursuits.  Thus, Paul suggests the pattern of the world will become a distraction for many.  Subsequently, finding pleasure in running or worship begins with a renewing of your mind.  Just as Jesus went into the wilderness, fasting and praying before beginning his earthly ministry, worship is taken to the next level by believing and claiming God’s promises for your life.  As the worries of life fade, your worship will please God as you bow down in holy reverence to your creator above.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me, 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Stage 3: Perfect

Human nature tends to lead people to rely on their own strength and abilities.  Yet, perfection is not attainable in flesh alone.  Rather, individuals need to come to a spiritual state where they recognize any weaknesses and lean on Christ’s power.  The apostle Paul was forced into this predicament through an unknown physical ailment.  While the Bible is not specific on his condition, God’s power is made perfect through weakness.  Therefore, if you are struggling to concentrate as you run or worship, don’t run this race alone.  Rather, cry out to the Lord for help and perhaps one day you will reach new levels as you worship God.

by Jay Mankus

 

 

 

Blinded for a Time

In the 1988 action film Bloodsport, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a martial arts expert Frank Dux.  The name is derived from a famous competition known as the Kumite.  During the championship match, the defending champion who killed on of his opponents in a preliminary match, throws a foreign substance into Dux’s eyes.  Blinded for a short time, Frank panics before relying on his training which carries him onto victory.

Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus, Acts 9:8.

The saying “you don’t know what you have until its gone” can be applied to several aspects in life.  A soldier who relies on his strength may loose a limb or limbs in battle.  Individuals may take forgranted a special relationship until death takes this person away prematurely.  Meanwhile, a career or home can be ruined in a blink of an eye.  Regardless of who you are or where you live, sooner or later you will be blindsided by a trial.  How you respond will determine the path you take in life.

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.

Looking back over the last 5 years of my life, I was forced to fight through adversity.  Through some of the ups and downs, there were times I felt God turned his back on me.  Yet, as I was blinded for a time, I learned that God never moved.  Rather, I allowed bitterness, frustration and regret lead me to drift away into period of depression.  However, like Jean-Claude Van Damme in the end of Bloodsport, my previous training in the Bible is helping me return to a victorious life in Christ.

by Jay Mankus

McFarland USA

As a former cross country runner, the story of McFarland intrigued me.  While not every sport is perfect, nor will every athlete possess special memories, yet cross country is like a good book you can’t put down.  Eager to find out the conclusion, the message of the movie McFarland USA is a story book ending vanishing from America, a species on the verge of extinction.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it, 1 Corinthians 9:24.

For those foreign to the term Cross Country, family is at the very essence of this sport.  Perhaps, long bus rides to attend Saturday invitationals is forced upon participants initially.  However, after the training is over, the stop watch reset and pain fades away, strangers share a common bond of sweat and tears.  Regardless of the final outcome, the journey to improve far surpasses wins and losses.  In the end, treasured memories exist, as vulnerable hearts pour out their souls to teammates, welcoming people into their lives they never dreamed of or imagined.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint, Isaiah 40:31

The most important message of McFarland USA is choosing community over a career.  When success at a small school leads to a dream job, most follow the money, looking for an easy excuse to leave.  Yet, Coach Jim White’s legacy, played by Kevin Cosner, was built as the lives of his runners began to be transformed.  While his resume did include victories, he brought hope to hopeless Latinos.  Therefore, the next time you think you’re on the verge of striking it rich, make sure you don’t run anyone over on your way out of town.  Although wealth may feed your family, becoming a part of a community enriches your soul.

by Jay Mankus

The Second Glance

Casting Crowns uses the expression second glance in their song Slow Fade, on their The Altar and the Door album.  From an earthly sense, taking a second glance is normal, a natural inclination of a curious flesh.  However, when you consider the context of these lyrics in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-30, the second glance leads to lust, which Jesus equates with adultery.

While working on a service project last week, I listened to the same Casting Crowns album twice on my MP3 Player.  Initially, the background music served as motivation, an adrenaline rush to inspire me to complete my task.  Yet, the second time through my focus shifted from an earthly view to a spiritual perspective.  Upon hearing the lyrics of Slow Fade, I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This whisper kept repeating over and over in my mind, “the second glance seems innocent, but leads to a slow fade within your faith.”  Like a cross country runner who stops training, it doesn’t take long for the discipline of running to cease.  Therefore, aim yourself with the attitude of Christ, 1 Peter 4:1, sharpening your mind like the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.  Avoid the second glance by developing a Job like mentality, Job 42:5-6, swapping a slow fade for a raging fire of faith!

by Jay Mankus

Mind Over Matter

Over the last few decades, the Name It and Claim It movement has gained traction, permeating into mainstream Christianity.  This theological position combines the bible with metaphysics, using faith as a force to speak the truth within an individual’s mind into existence.  Unfortunately, this view fails to address obstacles such as generational sins and sins of the father, Exodus 20:4-5, ungodly beliefs like John 8:31-38, soul spirit hurts in Matthew 11:25-30 and demonic influences, Ephesians 6:12.  In addition, some of these churches now encourage members not to seek a doctor when sick, claiming if they had genuine faith, they would be healed.

I tend to lean toward what I call a Read it and Believe it view of Christianity.  In other words, as you read and study the Bible, you begin to learn God’s precious promises.  As you examine how the Israelites and first century church leaders claimed these promises, you can apply these same principles into your own prayer life.  During trying moments, you might want to use prayers of King David or Jesus himself as an outline for prayer.  Faith in this context is in the word of God, not your own mind.  Belief is exercised through the power of the Holy Spirit as described in 2 Peter 1:3-4.  According to this passage, God has given us everything we need for life in the form of the Holy Spirit.  In my mind, this is a more realistic and accurate view of a biblical life.

During my tenure as a high school Bible teacher, I slowly began to see how weak individual minds were.  Not in an intellectual sense, but in their belief, confidence and power of God to change their current situation.  Many of my students had given up hope that their circumstances could ever improve.  Divorce, heartbreak and trials poisoned their minds with doubt, leading many to dwell on matters beyond their control.  This mindset can develop into a defeatism mentality, creating Christians who never successfully take their minds captive, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.  This is likely why the name it and claim movement has become attractive to so many Christians today.

To my knowledge, there are only 2 clear examples of mind over matter in scripture.  The first is used by the apostle Paul in the context of an athlete training for the Corinthian Games, similar to the modern day Olympics.  Runners must force their minds to overcome the pain they are experiencing so that one can push their body beyond a normal limit, 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.  Practice and training prepares a runner for the various competitions in life.  Meanwhile, the disciple Peter is referring to having a certain mindset, one like Jesus in 1 Peter 4:1.  This use of the mind relates to the thought process which helps you endure your current state, enabling you to reach the goal or end result you desire and seek to obtain.  This mindset is accessible when Christ is Lord over all areas of your life.  Therefore, as 2012 draws to a close, my prayer for 2013 is that people begin to scratch the surface of the love and power of God, Ephesians 3:14-21.

by Jay Mankus

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