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Sorting Out the Details

Whenever you plan a weekend getaway or vacation, one member of your family has to sort out all the details. If you’re flying, what’s the best day and time to get the cheapest deal? Where are you going to stay and how close is this to the main attractions? During one trip early in my marriage, I forgot about all the Nascar fans in town for the race at the Monster Mile in Dover. My oversight made it impossible to find a hotel on our way back, ending up in a dive in the middle of nowhere.

If you know (perceive and are sure) that He [Christ] is [absolutely] righteous [conforming to the Father’s will in purpose, thought, and action], you may also know (be sure) that everyone who does righteously [and is therefore in like manner conformed to the divine will] is born (begotten) of Him [[r]God], 1 John 2:29.

One of Jesus’ disciples writes about sorting out all the necessary spiritual details to conform to God’s will for your life. The apostle Paul starts this process by developing the right mindset in Romans 12:1-2. While reaching out to a teenager pastor in the first century, Paul encourages this spiritual leader to daily apply his gifts and talents, 2 Timothy 1:6-7. As Christians begin to ascertain their spiritual gifts and adopt the mind of Christ, sorting out God’s will for your life begins to fall into place.

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.

However, sorting out all the details of conforming to God’s will in purpose, thought, and action will vary for each Christian. Some who come to a personal faith in Jesus late in life often have a clear vision of God’s calling. Young followers may have to explore for a couple of years or a decade, going through their own prodigal experience. Or if you’re like me you have to reinvent yourself at a stage in life to transition into a new job or calling. Whatever steps God takes you through, remember that success is the process of arriving until the Lord calls you home.

by Jay Mankus

Purpose, Thought and Action

There is a theme that one of Jesus’ disciples weaves through a few of his first century letters. The first reference of purpose, thought, and action appears in the passage below. A similar statement is made at the beginning of 1 John 2. The point that John is attempting to make is that confirming to God’s will requires a 3 part process: purpose, thoughts, and actions. This reveals your true allegiance.

If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action], 1 John 1:9.

Purpose is the reason for which something is created or done. From my own personal experiences, having purpose is similar to vision. If you know what you want to do and where you want to go, purpose serves as a compass to guide and direct your life. However, when you lack knowledge, purpose, and vision, you’ll go through life aimlessly, without a clear sense of direction, Hosea 4:6.

My little children, I write you these things so that you may not violate God’s law and sin. But if anyone should sin, we have an Advocate (One Who will intercede for us) with the Father—[it is] Jesus Christ [the all] righteous [upright, just, Who conforms to the Father’s will in every purpose, thought, and action], 1 John 2:1.

Thought and actions tend to go hand in hand. When a thought is conceived within your mind, you’ll like act upon this sooner or later, James 1:14-15. Those who develop a purpose drive life as described in Rick Warren’s book, thoughts and actions will follow. However, the key is not simply listening to the Bible. The ultimate goal is to become doers of God’s Word, Matthew 7:24. Jesus gives Christians a purpose, the Bible plants thoughts into our minds and the Holy Spirit prompts believers to take action, Galatians 5:25.

by Jay Mankus

Praying for Blessings, Happiness and Protection

In my lifetime, more than 100 artists have written songs with pray, prayer or praying in the title. This includes secular artists like Praying by Kesha, You Got To Pray by M.C. Hammer and Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi. Regardless of your religious upbringing, when people get desperate, prayer is a natural response to someone in need. One of Jesus’ disciples suggests that prayer leads to blessings, happiness and protection.

Never return evil for evil or insult for insult (scolding, tongue-lashing, berating), but on the contrary blessing [praying for their welfare, happiness, and protection, and truly pitying and loving them]. For know that to this you have been called, that you may yourselves inherit a blessing [from God—that you may obtain a blessing as heirs, bringing welfare and happiness and protection], 1 Peter 3:9.

A prayer is like a wish that pops into your mind. Sometimes a prayer can be a vivid vision of how you would like a situation in life to turn out. This may not be a Hollywood ending, but it’s an image of hope of how things could, might and should be if God gets behind the desires on your heart. Since story book endings are rare, prayers provide requests for change, progress and if possible a miracle. Yet, sometimes it’s the person who is praying who needs to change.

Then Satan answered the Lord, Does Job [reverently] fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have conferred prosperity and happiness upon him in the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land, Job 1:9-10.

The passage above comes from the first completed book in the Bible. Shortly after Lucifer is banished and kicked out of heaven, this spiritual being finds a place on earth as the ruler of the air, Ephesians 2:2. Following the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Satan needed to ask permission from God to tempt Christians. When the hedge of protection surrounding Job’s family is removed, hell is unleashed upon his life. Through all of the trials Job endured in life, he learned the importance of praying for blessings, happiness, and protection from evil.

by Jay Mankus

The Focal Point

A focal point is the point at which rays or waves meet after reflection or refraction. In the context of ornamental horticulture, a focal point is the center of attention. While the focal point is usually the front door of a house, columns, gardens and statues are architectural features that are also highlighted. From a spiritual perspective, Jesus isn’t merely an accessory, He’s the Centerpiece and Focal Point of Faith.

But they have not all heeded the Gospel; for Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed (had faith in) what he has heard from us? 17 So faith comes by hearing [what is told], and what is heard comes by the preaching [of the message that came from the lips] of Christ (the Messiah Himself), Romans 10:16-17.

My higher education in golf course design never made it past my internship in my final year of college. Since I worked early in the morning, I ended up as an overachiever doing a double internship in youth ministry. Sometimes I wonder why God allows individuals to head down paths in life that end up in dead ends. Perhaps this occurs so that believers refocus their attention on the focal point of faith.

Those whom I [dearly and tenderly] love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten [I discipline and instruct them]. So be enthusiastic and in earnest and burning with zeal and repent [changing your mind and attitude]. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears and listens to and heeds My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he [will eat] with Me, Revelation 3:19-20.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is listed above. While certain verses are self explanatory, others require time to reflect upon the spiritual truth hidden within. John received a vision of a door with only one handle. Apparently, God’s side does not have a handle, symbolic of free will given to all human beings. While you can’t physically see God, subtle signs are present daily if you’re paying attention, Romans 1:20. Like the words of Hebrews 12:1-2 that compares life to running a marathon, fix your eyes on Jesus, the focal point of the Christian faith.

by Jay Mankus

As You Draw Near to God

Drawing near to God is one of those topics where you will find numerous how to books. Based upon personal experiences, some authors have broken down drawing near to God with 7 specific steps. Other Christian writers have used the Bible to create a formula for drawing near to God. If these individuals haven’t had success in their attempts to draw near to God, these books wouldn’t exist.

[As you draw near to God] be deeply penitent and grieve, even weep [over your disloyalty]. Let your laughter be turned to grief and your mirth to dejection and heartfelt shame [for your sins]. 10 Humble yourselves [feeling very insignificant] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [He will lift you up and make your lives significant], James 4:9-10.

The best way I know to figure out how to draw near to God is by examining what Jesus did. According to Mark 1:35, Jesus was an early riser who went for a walk first thing in the morning. Apparently, Jesus was searching for a quiet place without any distractions. Once the ideal spot was found, Jesus fell to his knees and began to pray. Based upon Mark 1:36-39, drawing near to God brought Jesus clarity, focus and, vision about where to go and what to do daily.

Let us all come forward and draw near with true (honest and sincere) hearts in unqualified assurance and absolute conviction engendered by faith (by [b]that leaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness), having our hearts sprinkled and purified from a guilty (evil) conscience and our bodies cleansed with pure water. 23 So let us seize and hold fast and retain without wavering the [c]hope we cherish and confess and our acknowledgement of it, for He Who promised is reliable (sure) and faithful to His word, Hebrews 10:22-23.

In the passage above, one New Testament author reveals the mindset you should have as you begin to draw near to God. One of Jesus disciples compares God to the Father of light who knows everything that you’ve ever done, 1 John 1:6-8. Therefore, if you want to draw near to God like you never have before, start by confessing and verbalizing your shortcomings and failures. Once you unload all of these burdens like Matthew 11:28-30, healing will come to those who draw near to God, James 5:16.

by Jay Mankus

The First Fruits of a New Year

The concept of biblical first fruits is one of those things I always struggled to visualize. First fruits is introduced in Genesis 4 where two brothers are called by God to give an offering up to the Lord. Since Cain was a farmer and food takes time to grow, he was hesitant to give God the best crops that he just picked. Meanwhile, Abel was a shepherd and offered up his very best sheep to the Lord. Abel gave his first fruit of the year believing God would provide in the future, but Cain held back food, doubting God.

And [we obligate ourselves] to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the first of all the fruit of all trees year by year to the house of the Lord, 36 As well as the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as is written in the Law, and the firstlings of our herds and flocks, to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in [His] house. 37 And we shall bring the first and best of our coarse meal, our contributions, the fruit of all kinds of trees, of new wine, and of oil to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God. And we shall bring the tithes from our ground to the Levites, for they, the Levites, collect the tithes in all our rural towns, Nehemiah 10:35-37.

Nehemiah was living in exile, serving as bodyguard for the king of Persia. One day a messenger sent word to Nehemiah that the wall of Jerusalem had been broken and the gates were on fire. This devastating news stirred Nehemiah’s heart, inspiring an extended period of fasting and prayer. Following this time of mourning, God gave Nehemiah a vision and plan to repair and rebuild the wall. The passage above serves as a celebration to give first fruits to the Lord as the wall surrounding Jerusalem was completed.

And it was of His own [free] will that He gave us birth [as sons] by [His] Word of Truth, so that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures [a sample of what He created to be consecrated to Himself], James 1:18.

The earthly brother of James provides a modern interpretation of first fruits. Instead of offering up a sacrifice similar to that of the Old Testament, our lives should be a demonstration that we’re serve a living God. As you read and study the Bible today, you should be inspired to live out your faith like Jesus, Romans 10:17. Colossians 3:17 and 23 provide a call to action. “Whatever you do, whether in action or words, do this all in the name of Jesus” as a first fruits offering in this new year.

by Jay Mankus

Avoiding the Path of Misery

Italian historian Dominici de Gravina eluded to the concept of misery loves company in the 14th century. More than 200 years later in England, John Ray wrote a proverb referring to this strange attraction to misery. In the first century, the apostle Paul warns his readers about the company that you keep, 1 Corinthians 10:32. No matter how pure your intentions may be, bad character corrupts good people.

Yet let no man strive, neither let any man reprove [another—do not waste your time in mutual recriminations], for with you is My contention, O priest. And you shall stumble in the daytime, and the [false] prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; and I will destroy your mother [the priestly nation]. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you [the priestly nation] have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you that you shall be no priest to Me; seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children, Hosea 4:4-6.

At the end of his famous sermon, Jesus urges his audience to avoid going down the wrong path in Matthew 7:13-14. One Old Testament prophet blames the path of misery on a lack of knowledge and vision. Meanwhile, Jesus points to the public pressure to conform to explain why so many people end up self destructing. Subsequently, the choices you make in life will influence the path you ultimately take.

But our way is not that of those who draw back to eternal misery (perdition) and are utterly destroyed, but we are of those who believe [who cleave to and trust in and rely on God through Jesus Christ, the Messiah] and by faith preserve the soul, Hebrews 10:39.

When I was in high school, anytime I was miserable I made it my objective to not let anyone else have any fun. This stubborn obsession was like a dark cloud seeking to bring everyone I came in contact with down. Yet, the Bible speaks of an eternal state that is permanent. Therefore, if you find yourself heading down a path toward destruction and misery, turn to Jesus so that your faith may be preserved.

by Jay Mankus

A Final Word about Spiritual War

Most epistles of the apostle Paul end with salutations and thanking those individuals helping behind the scenes. Instead of devoting the final chapter of Ephesians to this practice, Paul provides a final word about the invisible war in the spiritual dimension. At the conclusion of this warning, Paul does squeeze in four verses to thank Tychicus for his faithful service. Yet, it is what comes before this which you should pay close attention to and grasp.

In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [be empowered through your union with Him]; draw your strength from Him [that strength which His boundless might provides]. 11 Put on God’s whole armor [the armor of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil, Ephesians 6:10-11.

Perhaps Paul is referencing his confession in 2 Corinthians 12:7-12. When Paul says “be strong in the Lord,” this may be code for at your greatest moment of need or weakness, place your full confidence and trust in Jesus. Yet, there is more to know about the ongoing spiritual war. While imprisoned at the time Paul wrote Ephesians, Paul appears to have a vision, comparing the Roman soldier standing guard outside his door with necessary spiritual armor.

For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere. 13 Therefore put on God’s complete armor, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place], Ephesians 6:12-13.

Since the reality of the passage above is overwhelming, Paul offers spiritual weapons that Christians can use before entering spiritual combat. This attire contains a belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, cleats to dig in, a shield of faith and helmet of salvation, Ephesians 6:14-17. These first five pieces of armor are defensive in nature. However, when believers take up the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, you can begin to go on the offensive. While defense is important in the realm of sports, being proactive and going on the offensive is crucial to taking back lost ground.

by Jay Mankus

Start Fighting on Your Knees

Affray, battles, conflict, defensives, riot, skirmish and violence are all words associated with fighting. Fights could be physical in nature where two opponents come together to settle a score. On the other hand, fights tend to be more passive aggressive where individuals practice back biting using gossip and slander as a weapon. In a letter to the Church at Ephesus, the apostle Paul urges Christians to start fighting on their knees, Ephesians 6:10-20.

When I heard this, I sat down and wept and mourned for days and fasted and prayed [constantly] before the God of heaven, And I said, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, Who keeps covenant, loving-kindness, and mercy for those who love Him and keep His commandments, Nehemiah 1:4-5.

Upon receiving news of Israel’s defeat at the hands of Babylon, Nehemiah immediately lifts up his troubles to the Lord. Feeling helpless as a servant to the king of Persia, Nehemiah weeps, mourns, fasts and prays. When you’re not in a position to take action, your next best option is to start fighting on your knees. According to chapter 1, Nehemiah fasted and prayed for 4 months until he received a clear vision on how to respond to this dire situation.

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.

In the 2015 film War Room, the tradition of Nehemiah is brought to light in a modern manner. An elderly woman of prayer develops a relationship with a younger woman whose family is falling a part. I guess when someone is desperate, you’ll try anything to turn your life around. Subsequently, this war room is a quiet place in your house that is devoted strictly to prayer. Once established in your current residence, you too can start fighting on your knees.

by Jay Mankus

Fitness for the Soul

Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak in 2020, there were 41,370 fitness centers in the United States. Depending upon where you live, most of these local gyms are in walking distance or less than 10 miles from where your reside. Whether you prefer exercise bicycles, treadmills or lifting weights, if you want to get in shape prices often range from $10-20 per month. If you need a friend to hold you accountable, most facilities often a special rate for guests. If you can’t afford this, there are always local parks with fitness trails with detailed instructions to follow for you to remain fit.

For physical training is of some value (useful for a little), but godliness (spiritual training) is useful and of value in everything and in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also for the life which is to come, 1 Timothy 4:8.

In his first letter to a teenager pastor, the apostle Paul wanted Timothy to not get caught up in physical fitness. While exercise is needed to stay in shape, fitness for your soul is much more important in the long run. Paul ends his first letter to Timothy with an illustration of what spiritual fitness resembles, 1 Timothy 6:11. The pursuit of happiness is an honorable quest, but fitness for the soul begins by pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Along the way, fight the good fight as you strive to emulate Jesus.

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, 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, Hebrews 12:1-2.

The author of Hebrews adds a different dimension to fitness for the soul in the passage above. As you work out physically and spiritually, remember the advice passed on to you by former coaches, mentors and teachers. If parts of your life begin to spin out of control, unload everything that is tripping you up or weighing you down. As you do this, keep your eyes focused on the cross since when runners get tired, the first thing that occurs is that heads slouch, forcing eyes to stare at the ground. If you keep your eyes fixed on the finish line, God will give you the vision to maintain fitness for your soul.

by Jay Mankus

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