Viewing by month: November 2009
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “miracle”?
Do your thoughts immediately turn to Jesus, recalling one of the miracles that He performed while He was here with us? Maybe His first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana? Raising Lazarus from the dead? Making the crippled man walk? Restoring the blind man’s sight? How about feeding the five-thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread?
I want to “set the table” for this post by asking you to try something for me; a warm-up, if you will. I’d like for you to recall the first of Christ’s miracles that you just recalled; the very first one that came to your mind. It doesn’t matter which one it was; there’s no right or wrong selection. You may have even thought of one other than those that I mentioned. Got yours? Are you ready to try this?
The first thing that I’d like for you to do is to close your eyes and ask God to give you an open mind, clearing your thoughts of all of the day’s clutter. Take a few deep breaths, and as you do, let go of all of your worries. Okay, for some of us, letting go of everything is a tall order! Just do the best that you can. I want you to allow yourself to step outside of the mental “box” that confines many of us. Allow your feelings to overrule your thoughts.
Now, I want you to think of the miracle that you have in mind, and put yourself in it. I’m not talking about envisioning yourself you reading about it in the Bible, or watching it in a movie. I want you to see, in your mind’s eye, that you are there, clothed in the garb of the day. You’re at the wedding feast, having a great time with your family and friends. You’re one of thousands sitting on a beautiful hillside watching a glorious sunset as the end of the day draws near. You’re in a crowded room as a man is lowered on a stretcher through a hole in the ceiling by his friends.
Jesus is there…
wherever you are; at the wedding…on the hillside…in the crowded room. You can see Him. You can hear Him. You feel His presence. You are with Him…the Son of God…the Word become flesh. You stand in awe, overwhelmed by what you are witnessing…Jesus performing a miracle! Amazing, isn’t it? Hold onto that feeling because…
Jesus is here. Now.
And He’s still working miracles. We see them every day.
Some we take for granted, like the human body. Have you ever stopped to wonder how your heart beats? I mean, what is it that makes it work? There’s no battery, or fuel source…it just starts when we enter this world, and stops when our time here is done. How about the gift of sight? Or hearing? Or our amazing minds? All God’s handiwork.
Other miracles are more obvious, and we associate them with, well, with miraculous events! A young child being spared in a passing tornado…people walking away from horrific traffic accidents…a tumor that has seemingly “vanished” just prior to surgery for its removal.
There’s one more miracle
that I’d like to share with you. I don’t know that this miracle is unique. In fact, I imagine that this miracle has unfolded countless times. I just don’t know for sure, and I don’t really know who to ask…
The miracle that I’d want to tell you about is the one that God performed in me. No He didn’t make a tumor vanish, or let me walk away from a horrible crash, or bring me back from the dead. In other words, my miracle is nothing that you would find in the news…
When you open your heart to the world, you shed the shackles of fear, resentment, doubt, and loneliness. In doing so you open your arms to embrace all that God and His magnificent universe has to offer you, and you realize that it had been there all along, but you were blind to it. A closed heart is accompanied by eyes that do not see.
The miracle that God gave me was that He allowed me to open my heart the day I got my tattoo in August of 2006. Look, I know I’ve told you about my tattoo, so I’m not gonna do that again today.
I will, however, reiterate once again that my life hasn’t been the same since that day. Perhaps this is because I haven’t been the same since that day. The moment that I gave my life to Christ my perspective on life changed. The change wasn’t immediate; it was a gradual process, one that continues even today. And I believe that with each additional sunrise that I see, that change will continue.
Look, a fifty-three year old man doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to change not only the way he lived his life, but the very essence of who he was…and then do it! He needed help. I needed help. And God gave it to me.
Perhaps it was part of His plan for me all along. Perhaps He was just waiting for me to ask for help. Perhaps I just had to reach that particular point in time when I was ready to receive Him. Fully.
Every facet of my life changed…the way I saw other people…the way that I dealt with life…the way that I reacted to certain situations…the manner in which we ran our business…the priorities in my life…the way in which I looked at myself. Everything changed.
And here’s the funny thing: when all of this was going on, I thought that it was the world that was changing! There was beauty in nature that wasn’t there before, a calm during storms that I’d never felt before, and a uniqueness and special quality in every person (even my perceived enemies) that I’d never noticed before. Lack was replaced by overflowing abundance.
Well, I realize that it was me that was changing, not the world. Again, I don’t know that it was or a conscious decision that I made, or the work of God, but I was allowed to dump all the garbage that had accumulated in my mind for years. In doing so I was opening my heart to the world, and more importantly, to God.
"…just fill me from the inside out, Lord."
That’s a snippet from a song that we sing at Church of The Highlands from time to time. And I’ve gotta tell you, every time we do I realize that God has done exactly that in me. I opened my heart to Jesus and He has absolutely filled me from the inside out.
People who have known me for years have marveled at the amount of change that has taken place in me. If they could only see and feel and know the amount of change that has occurred. If they could, if only for a moment, take a look from the inside out…
See you next week!
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/23/2009 at 7:15 AM | Categories:
This past summer the Church of The Highlands, located here in Birmingham, held Twenty-One Days of Prayer, a prayer service that lasted for, you guessed it, twenty-one days!
Being new to Highlands, I’d never even heard of the service, much less attended it. Come to think of it, I’d never been to a prayer service, at any church. Always looking for ways to deepen my relationship with God, I decided to give it a try. I’d often heard of people being referred to as “prayer warriors”, and while I didn’t consider myself to be a prayer warrior, or know that I wanted to be one, I certainly knew how to pray!
Monday through Friday the service was held from 6:00 to 7:00 A.M., and on Saturday it was from 9:00 to 10:00 A.M.. There wasn’t a service on Sunday. I guess that it was expected that you would attend church (and in doing so would pray).
I rolled out of bed at five o’clock and as quietly as I possibly could (I didn’t want to wake my wife Jackie) showered, got dressed, and brewed a small thermos of coffee to take with me. I pulled out of our driveway at 5:30, allowing 15 minutes for the drive, and another 15 to get settled in at church.
During the drive over, I wondered what the service would be like. I mean, would we just sit around for an hour in prayer? (I do that almost every morning in our kitchen.) I figured that I’d find out soon enough.
I walked in to find a perhaps a hundred people scattered about, as our praise and worship music filled the huge main auditorium (it seats around 2,500 people). I took a seat near the front, as is my custom, and bowed my head in prayer while I waited for the service to begin.
The first of the twenty-one days began with an introduction as to what we should expect during the next three weeks. Each day would begin with a reading and a message from one of the pastors at Highlands. This would be followed by everyone in attendance singing one of our “Sunday songs.” Next would be thirty minutes of individual prayer and reflection. The final fifteen minutes would consist of everyone gathering at the main stage for corporate prayer being led by the “pastor of the day”.
I remember thinking “I can handle this.”
And so the first service began with the reading, the message, and the singing. I was enjoying the experience, but I wasn’t sure that it was worth getting up and out of the house at 5:30 in the morning. Turns out that I was a bit premature in my thinking…
When we had finished singing we were told that there were some resources at the front of the stage that we might use in prayer. Figuring that I could use all the help I could get, I decided to check out these resources.
As I approached the stage I saw stacks of cards arranged across the front. As I got closer I realized that they were hundreds of Connection Cards from Sunday’s services. These cards are filled out by visitors attending Highlands for the first time, returning visitors, and members of the church. There are sections for general information, (name, address, age, etc.) education classes offered in the church, ministry opportunities, and prayer requests.
I picked up, I don’t know, maybe 25 or 30 cards and headed back to my seat. As I began to read, I quickly realized that all of the cards in my hand contained prayer requests from the congregation.
Now I have to tell you…I pray for people all the time. I pray for Jackie and our family. I pray for my friends. I pray for our team in our salon. I pray for our church and civic leaders, our country, and our world. I pray for the sick, and those in need. I pray for lost souls.
But this was different. I was holding people’s lives, stranger’s lives, in my hands. Yet strangely enough, I felt as if I knew them. You see, there were names connected with all of these cards…people requesting prayers for themselves, or family members, or friends. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see their faces; I knew their names. And there was hurt and pain and desperation on all of these cards…sickness…drug abuse…broken relationships…financial problems…death. Many prayed for loved ones to find God.
The small stack of cards in my hand suddenly carried the weight of an automobile. I found myself holding my breath, tears streaming down my face, overwhelmed by the huge wave of emotion that had engulfed me. Five or ten minutes elapsed before I could continue reading.
Looking back on it now, I don’t know if I was moved by the needs of all those people, or by the affirmations of their faith shown in asking other people to act as intercessors on their behalf. Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Either way, the impact of that morning stayed with me for the remainder of that day, and for days to come. And so it went for the next couple of weeks.
I don’t remember the exact day, but I do know that it was during the last week of the Twenty-One Days. I was walking around in church that morning (I sometimes like to pace when I pray) sifting through the prayer cards, just as I had been doing for the past couple of weeks. I had actually gotten more accustomed to reading them by then. Oh, I still felt the pain, but I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I had been the first few mornings.
But that particular morning I sensed something else…a different kind of urgency…a different kind of pain. This was something close to me, as in physically close. I stopped dead in my tracks and took a look around, hoping to find the source of my uneasy feeling, but not really wanting to. Make sense?
There, on the floor, just a couple of feet away from me, was a young lady on her knees, face buried in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably. I could feel her pain. My first instinct was to put a hand on her shoulder to console her. I decided against it because I thought that I might be invading her privacy. I was, after all, a complete stranger. I opted instead to linger for just a moment, asking God to hear her petitions.
“You can’t see the forest for the trees.”
After praying for the young lady, I resumed my walk around the church with a new set of eyes, with a different perspective. This time my focus was not on the cards in my hand, but on the other people in attendance.
As I scanned the church, I was taken aback by the desperation that I not only saw on many faces, but actually felt in my heart. At that very moment I realized that while many of us were offering prayers for people on the connection cards, a great many others were on their knees for their own petitions. Had they been there all along during the twenty-one days? How could I not have noticed them? How could I not have felt their needs?
My mind flashed back to that very first day…the numbness, the emotion, and the tears. I spent the remainder of that morning, and a good portion of the remaining mornings that week, praying for the needs of those around me.
How do I do it?
I’m frequently asked how I can be so positive and happy all the time…
When I’m having a particularly rough day, or when life seems to be throwing me one curve after another, or when I’m faced with one of those challenging situations that we all face from time to time, I pause.
And I think about the Twenty-One days of Prayer, and the connection cards with the names, and the hurt, the pain, the needs of others. And I think about the young lady on her knees, and the man openly weeping as he offered his petitions to God, and the desperation that I felt in that church. And the faith that I witnessed in that church. I think about the millions of people that are burdened each day and the millions more that don’t know God.
You see, my positive outlook and happiness is born of gratitude. I’m grateful that God has seen fit to bless me with all that He has. I’m grateful for His presence in my life. I’m grateful that He has given me another day. I’m just grateful. Period.
See you next week!
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/16/2009 at 7:24 AM | Categories:
Have you ever wondered what God sounds like…I mean, as in tonal quality, inflection, and pronunciation? Would he speak to someone from the South with a draaawl? How about a follower from Boston Haaabah? Longiiisland? Minnesooota? Come on…you gonna tell me that you’ve never even thought about it? I bet you will now! J
All joking aside, I believe that God talks to us, or sends us messages all the time. Sometimes it’s to answer questions that we have for Him, and sometimes it’s to guide us through life. And it’s up to us to recognize His “voice” when He speaks.
I want to tell you what happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it was Wednesday, October 28, 2009. We had just returned the day before from a weekend in Florida where we had attended a salon industry event with several members of our team. If you’ve ever owned a business, or been in a management position, you know that there’s a price to pay for taking time off! After arriving back in Birmingham on Tuesday morning, I spent most of the day “catching up”; payroll, bank deposits, placing orders, paying bills, etc. In other words, Tuesday had been a long, long, day.
There’s something that bears mentioning; that Monday’s post had been about Satan (The Enemy Within). If you had the opportunity to read it, you know that the devil was messin’ with my mind while I was writing it and after it had been completed. Wrestling with Satan can take the wind out of your sails and derail you; it certainly had with me.
Have you ever had the feeling that you were disconnected from God? I mean, you knew that God was with you, but you didn’t feel His presence? That’s exactly how I felt when I got up on Wednesday morning; disconnected. I was tired, both mentally and physically. To make matters worse, doubts about me, my abilities, and my purpose in life were beginning to plant themselves in my subconscious. I was questioning if I was making a difference in the world at all.
I made my way to my prayer chair in our kitchen, turned on Church of The Highlands Arise music on my iPod, and settled in for prayer and meditation. Fifteen minutes later…nothing…nada…zilch. It had been a long week and I was desperate to feel God…to be with Him. And I was getting nowhere. And I was getting frustrated.
Then I did something that I’d never done before…I picked up my Bible, held it in my hands, and asked God to reveal Himself to me through His Word. I decided to just open the Bible and start reading. I believed that God would indeed give me a message, and I asked Him to give me spiritual eyes to see it, an open mind to receive it, and an open heart to feel it.
The Book of Daniel
That’s where I opened the Book…to the first page of Daniel. I fervently began reading, looking for my “message.” First page…kings and people with hard to pronounce names…like reading a history book. I was a little disappointed, but still filled with anticipation. Second page…more of the same…more of Daniel’s story. I began to think that I had opened the Bible in the wrong place, that I had been wrong…more doubt.
I decided to read more of Daniel. There, at the bottom of the third page…
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in the darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank you and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of a king.” DANIEL 2:20-23 (NIV)
Wisdom…knowledge…reveals…light. I was beginning to feel better. If nothing else, the anxious feeling that had been my companion for several days was going away. That was a start! Thank you God.
When I had finished with my prayers I decided to see if I had received any e-mails or comments through The Seed of Hope. This too, is one of my morning rituals…it’s always a blessing for me to hear from you guys!
Well, I was blessed x 3 that morning! One of the e-mails was from a lady that had read a post (“BUT” August 16, 2009) that had been printed in a local publication here in Birmingham. She graciously informed me that reading the article had “blessed me so”, and was wondering if I might send her a copy so that she may forward it to some of her friends. Of course, I immediately did exactly that, thanking her for sharing the message with others.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that this lady’s name was Faith. On a day when I’m plagued by questions and doubt, I receive a beautiful message from a complete stranger; a stranger named Faith. Thank you God.
Despite being tired from both the previous weekend and work that day, my wife Jackie and I made a last minute decision to attend church that night. Though I always want and need to go to church, there are days when I really need to be in church…I felt that this was one of them. As it turned out, I’m thankful that we went…
Church of The Highlands Pastor Chris Hodges’ message that night was all about the existence of Satan and spiritual warfare! Jackie turned to me with this knowing look on her face the moment she realized that the Pastor’s topic was exactly what my post had been about on Monday. I sat there in stunned silence with tears in my eyes. Why?
Look, I’ve told you before that I am nothing more than a regular guy with a message. I am an authority on nothing, and I never profess to be more than that. I just write about what God puts on my heart and in my mind. Walking into a church, my church, and hearing not just any Pastor, but my Pastor give a message on a very touchy subject, just two days after I had done the same, and citing the same verse from the Bible in doing so, just blew me away. Thank you God.
Later that night…
When we returned home after church, I decided to check my e-mails one last time. I was excited to see that I had received a new weekly Verse and Message from my good friend, fellow blogger, and awesome Christian lady Susie McCullum! (Susie’s blog page is http://susiemc.wordpress.com . You need to check it out!)
Here’s an excerpt from Susie’s blog:
“BUT, the devil wants to condemn us as Christians. He wants to declare that we are guilty, causing us shame for our wrongdoing. In fact, one of his main objectives is to blur our perspective in a way that causes us to see ourselves as we were before Christ redeemed us, with a dark cloud over our heads. The devil’s plight is to manipulate us into becoming miserable Christians that will be ineffective for God’s Kingdom.”
Reading Susie’s message made me realize that Satan had still been messin’ with me. I got in the bed and covered myself and Jackie in prayer as I drifted off to sleep. Thank you Susie. Thank you God.
One Wednesday in October,
God knew that I was struggling. I was doubting, not Him, but myself. I was in one of those dark tunnels that we find ourselves in from time to time. He heard my prayers, asking Him for clarity, light, and assurance. So He decided to send me a message not once, or twice, but four times. I asked…He answered.
How great is our God!
See you next week.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/09/2009 at 6:30 AM | Categories:
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