The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: January 2010

Apart from Him

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress.   Psalm 107:6

Yesterday marked the beginning of the third and final week of Twenty One Days of praying and fasting at Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham. The first two weeks have been an amazing period of spiritual growth, enlightenment, and strength. It has been a time for deep meditation and inner reflection, as I’ve looked for ways to become even closer to God with each passing day. It has also given me an opportunity to reflect on the past…

Prayer Requests

Each week at Highlands, members of the congregation are invited to fill out cards requesting prayers for their needs or the needs of others by the Prayer, or Intercessory Team at church. Having filled out a couple of the cards during the past year, I can tell you that I found a lot of comfort in knowing that I was not alone in my petitions to God. Looking back on it now, I realize that I drew a lot of strength as well from that knowing.

For the past two weeks, excluding Sundays, my days have begun with a one hour prayer service at the church. During this service, those in attendance are invited to offer prayers for other members of the church, using those very same prayer cards as a resource. After going down my personal list of people that I’m praying for, I turn my attention to the stacks of prayer cards at the front of the church.

There’s one thing about these prayer cards that absolutely amaze me: a great number of the cards I’ve read have been filled out by people seeking prayers, not for themselves, but for others. This is especially the case when it comes to addictions…alcohol…drugs…gambling.

I found myself wondering why the people with the addictions weren’t filling out these cards for themselves. Well, I think that the first and most obvious answer to that question would be that the addicts weren’t in church to fill them out. And you know, that is a very good answer…but it’s not always the right one. In pondering the question that I had posed, I found myself reflecting on my life twenty-three years ago, before Jackie and I were married…

Look, before I continue I have to explain something to you. I’m gettin’ ready to share a couple of things with you that I’m not really proud of, but I believe that there are times when I have to set my dignity to the side and tell you what’s on my heart. The primary purpose of this site is to share what God had done in my life; this includes the good and the bad stuff. I make no apologies for who I was, what I was, and what I’ve done in the past. What matters most to me is who I am, what I am, and what I do today. You can judge me as you will.

Twenty-three years ago, I was in the final year of a fifteen year marriage to my first wife. It was a very, very rough relationship, yet one that to this day I consider a blessing because of the birth of sons Brian and Christian.

I’m neither laying blame nor claiming blame for why the marriage didn’t work. Let’s just say that I don’t believe that it was one of those matches made in heaven. I think that sometimes many of us make a mistake in judgment when it comes to whom we should spend the rest of our lives with.

Through all of those trying years, I never asked God to get me out of the relationship. With my marriage, as with all the other trials and tribulations in my life, I merely asked Him to give me the strength to carry the crosses that I was given. And I prayed a lot.

A funny thing happened when I wasn’t looking.

I became addicted to cocaine.

I don’t know how it happened. I tried it once with some friends. Then I tried it again. And again. Soon it became a part of my life. It became the center of my life. I woke up, and headed for the coke. My day ended with the coke. And the hours in between? I don’t really have to answer that question for you, do I?

You see, cocaine became my escape from a world filled with arguments, and cursing, and verbal abuse. Cocaine filled the void in my life that had been created by the absence of hope for a better tomorrow. Yeah, I knew that I was probably killing myself, but it didn’t matter; I was dying on the inside a little bit more each day. What difference did it make?

And here’s the funny thing: during the time that I was hooked, about eighteen months, I was in church every Sunday! Yep, and I was asking God to help me carry those crosses, which were my marriage, and my career, and trying to be a good father to my sons. I never even asked Him for help with my addiction to the cocaine. I figured that I could handle it by myself. Get this: I didn’t want to draw His attention to the fact that I had an addiction! I was too proud to admit to myself, and to God, that cocaine had become the ruler and master in my life.

What’s worse was the fact that I didn’t believe that He was gonna answer my prayers.

I’m gonna cut this a little short because, well because I’m not real comfortable talking about it. Let’s just say that my marriage came to an end, and one night shortly thereafter, I went to sleep in prayer, begging God to heal me of my addiction.

I asked. He answered. I woke up the next morning, free of the need for cocaine. That was over twenty-one years ago. Yes, I believe in miracles. Yes, I believe that in the blink of an eye, He can free us from any and all chains that bind us.

Why?

Why do so many of us try to disconnect from God with some of the issues that we have in life? I’m not talking exclusively about addictions. I’m talking about relationships, fears, doubts…I’m talking about life.

How can we go to church, and worship God, yet think that we have to walk without Him? How can we include Him in certain areas in our lives, yet shut Him out of others? How can we possibly believe that we can handle anything in our lives better than He can? How can we see Him, yet be so totally blind to His presence? How can we possibly think that we can do anything apart from Him?

I urge you to read Psalm 107 in its entirety.

God can lift us up from every circumstance. He can free us from any chains, cure us from any illness, and guide us through the darkness.

Welcome His presence in your life. Ask for His presence. Ask for His help, in every walk of life. He will help you. Why?

Because God’s love for us is unfailing.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good: his love endures forever. Psalm 107:1

See you next week.

 

  

 

  

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 01/25/2010 at 7:50 AM | Categories:

What I'm asking God for...

Last week the Church of The Highlands, located here in Birmingham, began a period of prayer and fasting which would last for three weeks. This period is simply and fittingly referred to as Twenty-One Days of Prayer. Having taken part in Twenty-One Days this past summer (without the fasting), during which I had experienced a tremendous amount of spiritual growth, I had been eagerly looking forward to the first day, January 10th.

So I sit here today, having just returned from church, on the ninth of those twenty-one days, pondering what it is that I most want to share with you. I could talk about giving up desires of the flesh, by fasting from meats, caffeine, sweets, breads, and dairy products. There’s rolling out of bed at 5:00 A.M. Monday through Friday to attend the prayer service at 6:00, gathering with hundreds of other people chasing after God. There’s the amount of spiritual growth that God has blessed me with during this first week. All of these topics may be the core of another day’s post, but not this one.

Today I want to talk about my expectations going into this period of prayer and fasting. Well, not necessarily my expectations, but more of what I was going to pray to God for…what I was going to ask of Him. For weeks leading up to the Twenty-One Days, I had actually been praying to God to give me clarity as to what I should be praying for…

There’s my wife Jackie, and our family, and our business, and those that work in it. I could ask God to help me to be a good husband, father, friend, mentor, and leader. I could pray that God continue to open doors for The Seed of Hope to reach others. I could pray to Him for financial prosperity. I could pray for the needs of others…for our city, our state, our country. I could, quite simply, pray to Him for direction in my life.

It wasn’t that I only had one shot to make it count. I could, and would, offer prayers for all of those things, knowing that God would hear every one of them. But I wanted to go into this period asking God one particular thing for me; my personal request.

I turned to the Bible.

Now, if you know me, you know that I’m not that well-versed in the Bible. I just began reading it a couple of years ago, and in that time, I’ve discovered that it’s the closest thing to having a real conversation with Jesus. So I look to the Word for guidance and direction in my life, and more often than not, I find what I need.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2-3 (NIV)

To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.    1 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV)

I read both of these passages once, twice, and then a third time.

I was going to ask God for the Seven Spirits of the Lord, as found in Isaiah. I was going to ask God for the Gifts of the Spirit, as found in 1 Corinthians. I was going to ask God to favor me with spiritual abundance.

Above all else, I was entering those Twenty-One Days of Prayer seeking God’s wisdom.  Did you know that it’s available to all of us, for the asking?   

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. James 1:5-8 (NIV)

Wisdom

Can you imagine what it would be like to be filled with just a fraction of God’s wisdom?

Quite often I find myself praying for God’s direction, asking Him to guide me through life. As you know, sometimes when we receive directions from others, even from God, we have a difficult time discerning what we have heard.

If we ask God for direction, He may answer by giving us information. If we seek His face, and pray for His wisdom, He will answer us by giving us His mind! What a gift He promises to us…if we will only ask Him for it, with the unwavering belief, the unwavering faith that He will answer!

Filled with His wisdom, the direction that we seek will be easier to find. So will guidance in relationships, business decisions, career moves…every choice that we have to make in life. Again, I ask, can you imagine what it would be like to be filled with a fraction of God’s wisdom?

So…

I entered Twenty-Days of Prayer with the expectation that God would give me some of His wisdom. And I only asked that He would give me what my mind was ready to receive. If God had given me the full dose of what He has shown me in the past three years all at once, I could not have handled it. I don’t believe that any of us can comprehend the depth of His wisdom. Our minds simply are not big enough to wrap themselves around “all of God.” (That’s definitely a topic for another day!)

I can’t tell you the final outcome of this period of prayer and fasting because there are 12 more days to go. I can tell you that I believe that God is taking me to a new level spiritually, and it’s an incredible, almost overwhelming feeling. I feel His presence with me every waking hour, and the fire in me that burns for Him is white-hot! God is amazing.

In Prayer.

May I make a suggestion to you? If you haven’t already done so, the next time that you are in prayer, why don’t you take your attention off of a specific need or lack of direction, and instead ask God to give you His wisdom, to fill you with His mind? He promises us that He will.

See you next week.

  

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 01/18/2010 at 8:45 AM | Categories: Faith -

Shining in Defeat

My Dad always used to tell me that “God works in mysterious ways.” I always accepted his affirmation as being true, but looking back now, I realized that I never really gave much thought to it…until the past few years. I’ve come to believe that Dad was right; God does indeed work in mysterious ways. And He will manifest Himself through us, if we will only let Him…

THE Game

This past Thursday night, January 7th, the University of Alabama football team faced the University of Texas team in the Collegiate National Championship game…Alabama’s top-ranked Crimson Tide against the second-ranked Texas Longhorns.

The game was being billed as the game of the year. Both teams entered the game undefeated, with sparkling 13-0 records. Both team’s defensive units were among the top five in the country. Alabama’s head coach, Nick Saban, and Texas’ coach, Mack Brown, were considered to be among the best in their field. The winner of the game would be declared the best team in the country; the National Champion. BIG game.

And just in case the meeting of these two talented teams wasn’t enough to draw your attention, there was a personal matchup within the matchup; a “mano-e-mano” kind of thing, if you will. A couple of weeks earlier, Alabama running back Mark Ingram had received the Heisman Trophy, which is given each year to the best college football player in America. One of the runners-up was Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, a sentimental favorite who had finished a close second in the Heisman vote last year. Consequently, many eyes were going to be focused on “Ingram vs. McCoy”, candidate vs. candidate; the game within the game. Which player would perform better in front of a national television audience, in the biggest game of the year? Who would lead his team to victory?

The anticipation and “hype” leading up to the game was unbelievable. Texas had last won the title in 2005, while it had been seventeen years earlier, in 1992, since Alabama had won. Which team would prevail? Which team would be crowned “King” for the 2009 season?

The final score was…

I’m not gonna tell you what it was; you can find that out for yourself, if you’re interested enough. You see, the final outcome of the game is not what is important here; it’s something else entirely.

There was, however, one play in the game that I want to tell you about…

It was early in the game and Texas was driving towards Alabama’s goal line. Colt McCoy took the snap from center and was running to the left, looking for some room to turn up-field and gain some yardage against Alabama’s defense. McCoy was tackled by an Alabama player and was stopped for no gain on the play.

The next television shot was of Colt McCoy, running off of the field towards the sidelines, motioning that he needed attention.

Colt McCoy never played another down during the rest of the football game. On a routine tackle, during a routine play, Colt McCoy’s shoulder had taken a routine hit, and the consequences were anything but routine. The Texas team doctor and trainers had taken Colt to the dressing room for x-rays and a few other tests, which all proved to be negative. It didn’t matter; Colt’s arm just wouldn’t work. He couldn’t throw the football with any force or accuracy. He spent the remainder of the game on the sidelines, as a spectator, pulling for his teammates.

After the game.

At this point, for you to really appreciate my message to you today, I have to tell you that my team, Alabama, won the football game. But I also have to tell you that in this man’s humble opinion, Colt McCoy won the day.

Before I continue, I want to talk about a dream for just a moment. Though I’ve never met him, I’ll bet that growing up Colt McCoy had a “quarterback” dream, perhaps several of them…to be a starting quarterback…to throw a touchdown pass to win a game…to play football in college…to lead his team to a national championship. Those kinds of dreams require hard work, dedication, commitment, and preparation; years of it.

Immediately after game, one of the T.V. reporters covering the game caught up with Colt seeking an interview, which he graciously agreed to do. I’m sitting there thinking, “This kid has to be hurting on the inside. I can’t believe that this person is gonna question him about his thoughts. Not now.” Of course, that’s exactly what she proceeded to do….

“Colt, what was it like for you to watch this game, your last game in a Texas uniform on the sidelines?” questioned the reporter.

I watched and listened, as this 23 year old young man, this kid, struggled to fight back tears as he searched for words to answer the question that had been posed to him. Several seconds elapsed as he stood there, shaking his head, doing everything that was in him to keep his composure. Finally he began to speak…

“I love this game, and I’ve done everything I can to contribute to my team. We made it this far, and it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to play. I would’ve given everything I had to be out there with my team, but congratulations to Alabama. I love the way our team fought…. I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life and I know that if nothing else, I’m standin’ on the Rock.”

So small.

That’s the best way to describe the way I felt after hearing the remarks of this young man, this soldier of God. He’d been preparing for that game for years, chasing the dream that he probably had since he was a kid…being the quarterback on the best team in the country. In the blink of an eye, it was over. He didn’t even get his chance.

This brave young man had every reason in the world to be frustrated, to feel that he had been somehow “cheated” of his chance, to be angry, to be mad at God. I mean, who would have blamed him for being bitter?

When most may have taken the opportunity to complain about the hand that had been dealt to them, Colt McCoy rose above himself to share what was on his heart, to praise his opponent, and to give glory to God.

Suddenly, the taste of victory wasn’t so sweet for me. I mean, I was glad that my team won, but I was more proud of young Mr. McCoy.

In what was probably one of his darkest hours, Colt McCoy’s light in defeat was brighter than it ever would have been in victory.

You were so right, Dad. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

 

See you next week.

    

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 01/11/2010 at 6:43 AM | Categories:

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