The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Category: Faith

We have an enemy.

My last post was on October 31. A month ago. I can’t believe that it’s been that long; not since I last wrote, but since the battle began.

 

This post was supposed to be a follow-up to the previous one, which was titled …about visions. My plan was to pick up where I’d left off and share with you the visions that I had for my life when I was younger, and why they never materialized. I was so excited about sharing this. So much so that I already pretty much knew what Part II was going to be about before I’d finished the first part, which doesn’t happen very often.

 

That was one day before it began.

 

On the very next day, November 1, 2012, the fifteen-year old daughter of some long-time friends tragically took her own life. This beautiful girl knew the Lord. Take note of what I just said. She didn’t merely know about God. She knew God, and had a relationship with Him. Huge difference. She was active in church, attended a Christian school, and was loved by all who knew her. 

 

She was, quite simply, the least likely of candidates who would choose to end her own life. What happened?

 

We have an enemy.

 

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 NLT

 

We dohave an enemy, and he is relentless. No one is above reproach. No one gets a free pass. No one slides though unnoticed. Not Presidents, or Pastors, or doctors, or lawyers, or husbands, or wives. And obviously, not even the young.

 

And here’s the kicker: The closer you get to God, and the more you live your life “walking it out” as a Christian, and the greater your sphere of influence in leading others to Christ, or leading a nation, or leading a family, the more the enemy is gonna come at you with a vengeance.

 

Do you really think it was a coincidence that this young lady’s life “just happened” to end in the manner that it did? Neither do I.

 

Monday, November 5th

 

My wife Jackie and I attended the funeral service that day, and while driving to church I realized that I was consumed with anger. I was livid that the enemy had succeeded in claiming another victim with his lies.

 

Let me add something here. We’re all victims to some degree at some point in our lives. All of us have fallen victim to the enemy’s ways, by way of fear, anger, jealousy, lust, addiction, lying, or any other act or emotion that is not of God. Quite often it’s his manipulation of others that wreaks havoc in our lives, either through their words or actions. He’s always at work. In this instance it involved a tragic loss of life, and quite honestly, my anger was intensified because I knew this family.

 

As we walked into church, I realized that I was being consumed by what I like to call “justified anger.” Would you agree that when we’ve been offended by someone unjustly, we believe that we have the right to be angry? Well we do, but not if that angerconsumes us. When that happens we lose control of our emotions and rage takes over, and we put our Godly ways on the shelf. And when that happens the enemy wins the day.

 

During the service I was praying for our friends, their three daughters, and curiously enough, for myself. I was asking God to quell the rage that was boiling up inside of me.

 

LIFE

 

That night I was co-leading a LIFE (Living in Freedom Everyday) group involving a handful full of young men who are attending Highlands College, a ministry program at Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham, where Jackie and I are members.

 

We had just finished singing a worship song and were getting ready to dive into the curriculum when I interrupted the flow of things and told the guys that I needed to share something that was on my heart.

 

I recounted the events of the day, including the incomprehensible grief that I felt, not only in the hearts of the parents, but also in the hearts of everyone in the church. I told them of the war that was raging in me, and of my struggle to control the anger that was threatening to consume me.

 

And then I did something that many would consider to be foolish, if not insane. I waged war against the devil. I openly proclaimed that one of my purposes in life from that day forward would be to be an enemy of the enemy. I would stand against him whenever I saw oppression, or depression, or hopelessness, or anguish, or anything else that he used against an individual. I was sick and tired of his crap. I’d had it with people being robbed of their joy because of him. I called him out, and even as I was doing so I heard this little voice in the back of my mind screaming, “What are you doing? You know that you’re asking for trouble! Shut up!” Then there was another voice screaming just as loudly, “You shut up. I’m over this. I cannot just sit back and do nothing. God will protect me.” I had thrown down the gauntlet, and I wasn’t backing up.

 

The battle.

 

The last month has been a bit of a blur. To be honest with you, it’s been really hard. Oh, I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities to listen to people’s hearts, and to pray with them. Of course, I ask God for those opportunities every day. It’s as if Satan said, “Okay, you want to stand in the gap for people who are hurting? Here you go. Have at it.”

 

In the past few weeks, in ways that I really can’t explain, I’ve come to truly realize just how many people are suffering in the world today. Economic issues, relationship problems, self-image distortions, baggage from the past, worry, fear, oppression, anger management, depression, guilt and unworthiness abounds in the minds and hearts of so many people. There have been days when the prayer room in our salon has virtually been a revolving door. The opportunities have been a bit overwhelming at times, and left me in a bit of a weakened state; so much so that there have been a couple of days when I just really didn’t want to talk to anyone at all.

 

To make matters worse, we had been having some computer issues and hot water problems in the hair salon that Jackie and I own. And if that wasn’t enough, I had a breakout of a rash that was preventing me from sleeping at night.

 

When you add all of the above to the responsibilities of being a husband, boss, mentor, small groups coach, and the challenge of walking it out as a Christian each day, you end up with a man completely drained. That was me. The tank was almost empty.

 

That’s exactly what the enemy was waiting for. When a lion is on the prowl, he seeks out the smallest, or the lame, or the weakest in a herd because it’s the easiest to take down. I was weak because I was drained, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I became the prey.

 

Oppression

 

One definition of oppression is “a sense of being weighed down in body or mind.” I was wearing oppression like a custom fitted suit, and despite my best efforts, through prayer, and listening to worship music, and talking to my best friend, and laying around the house doing nothing to find some energy, nothing was working. I had no desire at all to write, which strangely enough, served in adding guilt to my ever-growing list of things that added to the weight that I was carrying. I recognized the oppression because I’ve been there before.

 

During this entire process I came to realize that my periods of oppression are marked by a very short temper. Curiously enough my biggest challenge before my spiritual awakening six years ago was anger management. I had no patience for anyone or anything, and my “fuse” was as long as the tiniest crack that you can create when bringing your index finger and thumb together.

 

That’s exactly what my disposition had been for the last few weeks. I had apologized to Jackie more times during that period than I had the six months preceding it. What’s worse was that I knew when I was being short-tempered and couldn’t do a thing about it. I was praying it off of me and casting of the enemy, and I was still being a hot head.

 

The end.

 

This past Monday night we were having LIFE again, and wouldn’t you just know that the curriculum topic was “Oppression and Possession.” (I love God’s sense of timing!) I wasn’t scheduled to teach that night, so I asked one of my co-leaders if I could share something that was on my heart before he began. Not really waiting for an answer, I began to speak.

 

Actually, it was more of a blow-up, a rant, a come-apart. I told them about what I’d been through since I had called out the devil one month earlier. I told them to take a good look at me, and they’d know exactly what oppression looked and sounded like. And I cautioned them that no one, no one, NO ONE, is exempt from the attacks of the enemy.

 

And I asked them to pray for me, because there are some things that we simply cannot do alone, regardless of the level of our faith. God wants us to reach out to others for help, to draw strength from one another. It’s one of the reasons that we have “church.” And then fourteen men put me in the middle of a small circle they had formed and prayed for me. As they did, I could feel the weight being lifted. And it was broken. Just like that.

 

The battle was over, but not the war.

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/28/2012 at 3:18 PM | Categories: Faith - Life -

Character and Greatness

Yesterday morning I was thumbing through my Bible when a small piece of paper that had been tucked away somewhere near the back dislodged itself and fluttered towards the floor. It came to rest under our kitchen table, and just out of my reach.

 

A bit irritated because I had to get down on my knees to retrieve the runaway, I picked it up and quickly scanned it for anything that might have been of importance before I tossed it in the wastebasket. On the small piece of paper was one short sentence that I’d printed containing a quote that I’d heard in a church service a year or two ago…

 

Greatness is born in difficulty.

 

Curiously enough, that’s the only thing that I’d written on the paper. Nothing else. Not the date, or the name of the Pastor, or any notes pertaining to his message. Greatness is born in difficulty. I think that the impact of the title of the message was in and of itself enough to set my “wheels” in motion…

 

As is often the case when I write, I’m not really sure where this is going, but as always, I’ll press on.

 

Character is defined as, among other things, “moral excellence and firmness” and “one of the attributes or features that make up an distinguish an individual.”

 

Greatness is a noun that, when used to describe the attributes of an individual, equate with “excellency, impeccability, value, goodness, and distinction.”

 

So what to the two have to do with one another? Well, I believe that for the most part, you won’t find one without the other. Come to think of it, I feel that the two are inextricably linked.

 

History.

 

The Bible is littered with examples of individuals who have been called to greatness. Think about it for a moment. In the Old Testament, we have Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, and David, to name a few. All of these men were called by God to serve, all answered yes, and all rose to greatness.In the New Testament, we need look no further than Paul to see a man who let nothing stand between him and what God called him to do.

 

Of course, calls to greatness didn’t end with the book of Revelation. Humanitarians would include Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. History is scattered with leaders of countries who have altered the course of history, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

 

Here’s the thing: All of those people endured some type of difficulty along the path to greatness. It may have been because of what God asked them to do, or the color of their skin, or situations created by other people, or a physical handicap. Perhaps it was just the sheer weight of the burden that comes with being a leader of people, or a trailblazer, or a difference maker.

 

I don’t know about you, but I consider all of those people to be of “character.” In my eyes, each of them possessed “moral excellence and firmness.” I believe that they already had character or developed it in order to get over, under, around, and through the challenges and obstacles that each of them faced.

 

Look around,

 

and it won’t take you long to find people of character who are great. They’re all around us, and aren’t categorized by career, social status, or lifetime accomplishments. They don’t have to be history makers; perhaps they’re history teachers. They don’t have to lead people to the Promised Land; perhaps they lead people to Christ. They don’t have to feed the poor and take care of the sick on a global scale; perhaps they feed children, and change diapers, and wipe runny noses in their own homes. They don’t have to be leaders of countries; perhaps they’re spiritual leaders in their families. Perhaps they put out fires, or drive school busses, or run companies, or dig ditches.

 

What I’m trying to say here is that what’s important is not necessarily what you do, but the manner in which you do it. It’s not the title or the position that you hold, but the person that you are. It’s your moral excellence and firmness and determination and commitment to what is right that makes you great.

 

Greatness.

 

I’ll tell you here and now without an ounce of hesitation, reservation, or timidity that I want to be a man of character and greatness. Not in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God. That “Well done my good and faithful servant” that we read in Matthew 25:21? I don’t wait until I cross the finish line of my life here on earth to hear those words. I want to hear them, or at least imagine hearing them, or knowing that I did my very best to deserve them, each and every day of my life.

 

When I lay my head on my pillow each night I want to reflect on my day and picture God having a conversation with one of His angels, or perhaps Peter or Paul, saying “You know that Sam Maniscalco? He has overcome every obstacle that has blocked his path. Well of course I helped him along the way, but he was willing to reach out to me for help. Even when he didn’t really know Me, he looked to Me for help. He’s not afraid to come to Me say he’s sorry when he has taken a wrong turn or done the wrong thing. He’s grateful for each day and for what he has, and he shares his heart and his love for Me with everyone he meets. He looks at all the challenges that he faces as life lessons to draw closer to Me. He never gives up, never quits trying, and never loses hope. He seeks to walk with the mind and heart of My Son.Through all of his trials and tribulations he has grown to be a man of character, and in the process he has risen to greatness.Above all else, he loves Me. I love that guy!”

 

Crazy?

 

Perhaps. I mean, who would the audacity to share his version of what an imaginary conversation that God is having in heaven with one of the long-time residents about him? Well, apparently me.

 

You may indeed think that I’m crazy, and I’m perfectly fine with that.I quit worrying about what others think of me a few years ago. All I know is that above all else, I love having God at the center of my universe. I love the feeling that I get when I’m sharing what’s inside of me with someone else. I love it when I’m sharing God’s Word with someone who has never heard it, not verbatim from the Bible, but from my heart. I love “witnessing” for Jesus.  I love the relationship that we have. I love walking with His Son, and I love being filled with His Spirit.

 

I love God with all that’s in me because that’s the way the He loves me. His love for me is absolute, unmatched, unwavering, unending, and unconditional. He’s always there for me. Always. And you know what? He’d love just that much even if I did none of the things that I do: no Seed of Hope, no prayer room in our business, and no sharing my heart with others. He’d stilllove me that much. After all, He sent His only Son to die for me before I was born!I mean, come on. How can you not be totally in love with and grateful for a Daddy like God?

 

I know that I am.

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 09/26/2012 at 11:23 AM | Categories: Faith -

The Twenty Year Wait

 

I’ve wanted to write about this for some time now, but I’ve been hesitant to do so because I’ve doubted my ability to come up with just the right words to convey my thoughts, and for fear of sounding as if I was condemning the classic definition of "religion." Be that as it may, I know that now is the time to share what’s in my heart.

I’m going to flashback to the fall of 1989. Better yet, I want to focus on the eighteen months or so leading up to that fall…

During that window of time, I had gotten a divorce from my first wife of fifteen years, accepted the fact that I would only see my two sons every other weekend, come off of a year and a half addiction to cocaine, gotten married to my current (twenty-three years now and counting) wife Jackie, become the co-owner of a hair salon that was bleeding out money in every direction, changed residences, and changed careers. Essentially, my life was anything but stable.

To make matters worse, I wasn’t even going to the same church (denomination) that I’d grown up in, because of the condemnation, real or imagined, that comes with having been divorced and remarried. Oh, we were going to church every Sunday, but even that was different. I didn’t even feel the comfort of taking refuge in a house of God, and quite honestly, I didn’t feel any better walking out of church than I did walking in.

I was confused, missing my sons, wondering what the future held for Jackie and me, and miserably happy, if that makes any sense. I guess I would liken what I felt to the promise of a new day that’s accompanied by a beautiful sunrise, but in this case the sun was almost completely obscured by several dark and somewhat ominous clouds. I wanted to be happy and excited with the promise of a new day, of a new life with my new wife, but there were just too many mental obstacles standing in the way.

The Room.

There was small room, an office, located in the back of our hair salon. I hesitate calling it an office, because I feel that doing so would be a bit of an in justice. You see, for me it was more of an asylum, or better yet a safe haven. I’d retreat to this small room because it was an escape from a business that I neither knew nor understood, and in reality, from a world in which I was very confused.

One morning I was sitting in my little room, trying to make some sense of my life. The door was closed and the only source of light was a small white candle in the corner of the room, the flicker of its flame dancing on the opposing walls.

I remember closing my eyes to pray. My prayers back then didn’t bear any resemblance to what my prayers look like today. They were reverent, quite reserved, and very impersonal. Come to think of it, at the time my relationship with God was exactly like my prayers: reverent, quite reserved, and very impersonal. I didn’t understand then, as I do now, that quite often, conversation with God is prayer.

So I began to pray. And somehow, some way, something that I’d read in a book about inhaling good, positive thoughts and exhaling bad, negative ones got mixed in with my prayers to God. I sat there with my back as straight as a board, my eyes closed, and my palms-up hands resting on my legs, while breathing in goodness and exhaling every negative emotion that I could identify, all the while praying for all of the bad to go away. I don’t know how long I sat in that room in the dark, breathing in the good and exhaling the bad. Must’ve been at least fifteen or twenty minutes before a knock on the door brought me back to reality. Walking back into the salon I realized that I felt better: much better.

The next morning I actually looked forward to getting to work, not actually for work, but for a few minutes in "the room." Thinking that I had to replicate everything from the day before, I lit the candle, closed the door, took a seat, struck the same posture, closed my eyes, and began to pray and to breathe. To my surprise, the same thing happened as the day before! And again, when I walked out of the room, I felt better than I had in a long, long time.

Of course I couldn’t wait to get to what was now "my room" the next morning, and the next morning, and the next. By the end of the first week I was inhaling not only good thoughts, but also strength and confidence and light and a renewed sense of self. Wow! This was awesome!

Strangely enough, I didn’t even try the prayer or the breathing techniques that weekend at home. For some reason, I just didn’t think that it would work. Hmm…

This went on for weeks, and with each passing one I became stronger and stronger. Looking back on it now, I believe that I may have even developed a bit of a swagger, because I felt so good and so confident. My life and everything around me was the same. I had changed. It was incredible.

STOP!!!!

After I don’t know, maybe a month or so, I developed this nagging thought in the corner of my mind. I tried to ignore it, but it just wouldn’t go away. It wouldn’t leave me alone.

It was fear.

You see, in my mind, I was afraid that I’d crossed some invisible line and had wandered into an area where God wasn’t. I was thirty-seven years old and had been going to church all my life and had taken religion class for twelve years and had been praying to the Lord year after year after year and had never felt the way that I did then. This, that I had stumbled upon was not of God because God had never made me felt that way. No, this was something dark and sinister and not of the Lord, and I was filled with shame and guilt, and I had to distance myself from it as quickly as possible.

So I stopped praying and breathing and filling myself with goodness each day. And the feelings of euphoria left me almost as quickly as they had come, and as they did, I felt myself slipping back into a hopeless, depressing, state of confusion. "That’s okay," I told myself. "At least I’m walking with God."

For the next twenty years, I often thought about my times in that little room during that brief season of hope and promise and confidence. I never went back, but I’ll unashamedly tell you here and now that many times I wondered if I’d ever find that with God. Oh, I was tempted to more times than I can count, but I made a promise on that day back in 1989 that I’d never again dance with the devil, cause I felt like that’s what I was doing.

March 2009

I had gotten hungry for more of God. My spiritual awakening had actually begun a few years earlier, in August of 2006, and during that three-year span I had an unbelievable period of spiritual growth. I was talking about God, and writing about God, and living for God, and yet something was missing. It was driving me crazy, and I was on a quest to find out what "it" was.

And on one Sunday in March of 2009 I found myself tightly squeezing Jackie’s hand as I nervously stepped into a different church in Birmingham, one that classified itself as a "non-denominational Christian church." The name was, and is, Church of The Highlands.

One week later I found myself at Catalyst, a weekend retreat for men sponsored by Highlands at a remote site several miles outside of Birmingham. That Saturday night there was an altar call for a Baptism in The Holy Spirit, and I tentatively stepped forward, because I just knew that I was supposed to.

And as I stood there among some 300+ men, I prayed to be filled by the Holy Spirit. I invited Him in and as I did I breathed deep and long, attempting to draw

in every bit of what God had for me at that moment, not knowing what it was, but wanting it.

August 31, 2012

It has been just over three years since that life-altering moment at Catalyst in 2009, and I’m still praying to be filled by the Holy Spirit. And you know what? He always shows up and fills me with His presence. And I’m filled with confidence and strength and goodness and light and hope and promise and all those things that I was filled with way back in 1989 when I was being filled with God’s Spirit but had no idea that it was Him because no one ever told me that God is real, and that He’s in us and not just around us, and that all we have to do is invite Him in, and that when we do the world doesn’t change around us but we change in the world, and we are the conquerors, not the conquered, and I could spend the rest of my life trying to tell you what it feels like to be Spirit-filled but I can’t because you have to feel Him in you to know what it’s like…

What gets me is this…

Way back in 1989 I was being filled by the Holy Spirit and didn’t know it! I’m not blaming it on any one or on any church. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. The twenty-year wait was part of God’s plan for me. Everything is in His time, even being filled with His Spirit.

I can’t undo those twenty years. I can’t get a replay on my life. As much as I would like to have been filled with the Holy Spirit all those years, and as much as it would have changed my life, changed our lives, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It just wasn’t time for me then. It is now.

What I can do is urge you, beg you, encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit, not just into your life, but also into you. Don’t let what others have told you, or your fears, or the enemy trick you into waiting another day.

Go ahead. Invite Him in. Ask to be filled by the Holy Spirit every day. It will be the best decision that you’ve ever made.

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 09/03/2012 at 9:14 AM | Categories: Faith -

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