The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: October 2010

The Power of Words

I’ve always made an attempt to carefully measure my words, especially if I’m angry or in a heated discussion with someone. I learned years ago that while apologies may be offered and accepted for words spoken in the heat of the moment, the hurt caused by those words may last for years, or even for a lifetime.

This past week I learned yet another “life-lesson” regarding the power of words. In this particular instance it was written words, rather than spoken ones, that offended a handful of people that I’m aware of, and that number may be more.

Unfortunately, I am the one responsible for writing those words, and even more regrettable is the fact that they appeared on this site. Rather than explaining this situation to you, I’ve decided to share a letter that I submitted to One Voice, a weekly Catholic Newspaper printed here in Birmingham.

October 21, 2010

My name is Sam Maniscalco. I’m a life-long resident of Birmingham. I was baptized at St.Paul’s Church, attended St. Paul’s Elementary School, and graduated from John Carroll Catholic High School in 1970.

I feel that I owe the Catholic community here in Birmingham an apology, and an explanation.

A few weeks ago, an article that I had written, A God of Fear, appeared in a local publication here in Birmingham. It has come to my attention that many Catholics took exception to the article, and that some were quite offended.

First, and foremost, I’d like to offer a humble and heartfelt apology to anyone that may have been slighted by the article. I can assure you that it was never my intention to debase the Catholic Church in any way, shape, or form. It is, after all, the Catholic Church that gave me the teachings, values, and morals that became the very foundation of my faith. That being said, I pray that you’ll accept my apology.

For those of you that didn’t have the opportunity to read A God of Fear, I’ll tell you that it centered on what I learned about God, faith, and the church when I was a child. I believe that the real controversy arose from what I had to say about Confession. I’ll pick up in the middle of the article…

Sadly, when it came to God, I felt the same way.

I was told that I had to go to confession when I was five years old; to tell God that I was sorry for what I’d done wrong. I HAD to go. No options. Besides, if I didn’t, God would know that I wasn’t sorry for what I’d done wrong. I’d better get in there and confess my sins. Or I’d never go to heaven.

At the tender age of five, what could I have done that was so wrong that God wouldn’t let me go to heaven? Nothing. But at five, I didn’t know that.

All too quickly forgotten was the promise of Jesus loves me yes I know, for the Bible tells me so. It had been replaced by “If you don’t tell God that you’re sorry, you can’t go to heaven.” Well, if the elevator ain’t going up, it must be going down!

The Fear of God seed had been planted.

While I regret that many took offense to what I had written, I’m having a hard time regretting that I shared my thoughts with people. You see, be it right or wrong, I simply shared what had been on my heart for all those years. The tragedy was not in what had been taught to me, or how it had been taught, but in the way that I processed what I had been taught. Sadly, I don’t believe that I’m alone in the way that I feel.

The fear of God that I was referring to isn’t exclusive to the Catholic Church. I’ve spoken with people, from every Christian denomination and from all walks of life, who are terrified of God. They’re so guilt-ridden from their sins of the past that many have no relationship with God at all, yet they feel that being estranged from God is easier than facing Him to ask for forgiveness. Consequently, they never get to know Him. How sad.

It was that misplaced fear, along with the tragedy of not having known the joy of a true and full relationship with God for the first fifty-four years of my life that was the inspiration for the article.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, people need God in their lives. The moral fabric of our society is torn, financial woes are at an all time high, and our world seems to be crumbling around us. Many feel that the Book of Revelation is beginning to unfold as we speak. Who is to say that they’re right? Conversely, who is to say that they’re wrong?

Here’s the bottom line.

We should be God fearing. There are certainly consequences for our actions. This is evidenced in Scripture more times than I could recall. We should not, however, be afraid of God, at least not when it comes to repenting for what we’ve done. Our God is a God of love, and He is a God of forgiveness. We shouldn’t be afraid to stand before God, asking forgiveness for what we may have done years, or months, or even days ago. God knows what we’ve done. And He knows what’s in our hearts. Like a loving parent, all that He’s waiting for is for us to say that we’re sorry. He doesn’t want us to be curled up in some corner, alone, afraid, and away from Him.

Again, I’m truly sorry for anyone that I may have offended. It was certainly not my intention. I just want people to know the joy of being with God that waits for all of us when we can get past our fears. It has been said that It’s not the just destination, but the journey itself. As it pertains to this statement, there are so many of us who are missing the unbelievable journey that we get to take here on earth when God is on that path with us.

May God bless you and yours,

Sam Maniscalco

What I learned this week is that I must always measure my words. Not just when I’m angry, or in a heated discussion. Not when I step into a room full of gossip, or when I’m at a party. Not when I’m frustrated, or when I’m feeling a little blue.

This week I realized that I must carefully measure my words, even in expressing my exuberance in finding forgiveness, freedom from shame and guilt, and a new relationship with God.

The irony in all of this is that I don’t feel as though I was saying anything against the Catholic Church as much as I was criticizing my own perceptions of what I’d learned about God as a child. It was my failure to choose the right words to express my thoughts that led to any misunderstandings.

Did I learn a lesson from all of this? You bet. Will it happen again? Quite honestly, as much as I’d like to say that it won’t, I have to realize that much of what I share on these pages are based on my feelings, and my feelings may not always be the same as yours.

I’ll close today with two passages from scripture.

A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook. Proverbs 18:4

A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul. Proverbs 18:7     

There is so much power in our selection of words. Because I chose the wrong ones to convey my thoughts, rather than being seen as a humble servant attempting to offer words of wisdom, in the eyes of many I was the fool.

Choose your words wisely!

See you next week.

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 10/25/2010 at 7:08 AM | Categories: Life -

...about being Called.

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew  24:14

Okay, I’m gonna begin this post with a confession. I first heard these words that Jesus shared with his Disciples years ago, when I was just a kid. Many are called, but few are chosen. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s quite a powerful statement? I always envisioned a group of kids standing on a playground, each eagerly waiting to be selected by one of the two opposing captains to be on his team. (I was always one of the last to be chosen, because I had “two left feet” and the hand-eye coordination of a newborn infant!)

It gets better! Are you ready for this? Until I began reading the Bible a couple of years ago, I thought that “Many are called, but few are chosen.” was a call to arms for the United States Marine Corps! I can close my eyes and hear the voice in the background of the Marine television commercial matter-of-factly and boldly proclaiming, “The few. The proud. The Marines.”  No, I’m not kidding. Actually, I didn’t really-absolutely-for sure-there’s not a doubt in my mind know that they were the words of Jesus until I looked it up on Bible Gateway this morning. (www.biblegateway.com is a great on-line reference resource for every version of the Bible.)

In this passage Jesus was explaining to his friends that heaven is available and attainable for everyone, but that entry into heaven is achieved only by those who are willing to lead a life that merits doing so.

What does it take to get into heaven? Good question, isn’t it? And I feel fairly certain that many of us think that we have the answer. It’s not, however, one that I want to attempt to answer today. Instead, I’d rather shift the focus of Jesus’ statement, from life eternal, to life here on earth, and how we choose to live it.

Many are called, but few choose to answer.

I believe that all of us have “callings” in life.

First of all, what exactly is a “calling”? Well, when used as a noun, Merriam-Webster defines a calling as:

1.    a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when              accompanied by conviction of divine influence

2.    the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages

I think that when most of us hear the term, our thoughts instinctively turn to those having a calling to ministry. Aside from the calling to ministry, when people speak of career “callings”, it’s safe to say that many of us have had callings to be physicians, or attorneys, or educators, or artists. I also believe that many of us fall into the trap of equating callings with “white collar” jobs such as those that I just listed. For some reason, we’d find it hard to believe that someone might have a calling to a “blue collar” job that involved manual labor, long hours, and that’s at the lower end of the pay scale.

Mr. Anderson

Several years ago I knew a man named Mr. Anderson. I never knew his first name; he never said what it was, and I never asked. Mr. Anderson had worked for a local furniture company here in Birmingham for years, although I’m not really sure what he did for them, because by the time that I met him, he’d already retired (though he wasn’t that old).

Mr. Anderson wasn’t exactly a picture of health. He had a moderate case of scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and walked with a slight limp. Because of his infirmities my initial reaction to seeing him for the first time was pity. I’m almost ashamed to tell you that my pity for Mr. Anderson turned to envy the moment that I shook his hand and looked into his eyes.

You see, Mr. Anderson had found his calling in life, which was refinishing furniture. I’ve gotta tell you that the man loved what he did, and his passion was evident not only in the quality of his work, but in the way his eyes lit up when he saw an old piece of furniture that needed restoration. I believe that Mr. Anderson could see beyond that table, chair, or piece of bedroom furniture that had been painted or re-stained, and could envision what it was gonna look like when he stripped away the layers to reveal its natural beauty.

Once, when I was foolish enough to ask Mr. Anderson if there was anything else that he’d like to do in life, he looked right at me, and without missing a beat, simply replied, “Nope. It’s what I love to do. It’s all I want to do.”

Mr. Anderson had answered his calling. He answered the calling that was in his heart.

When it comes to God and His Kingdom, have you answered the calling that He has placed on your heart?

What’s that? You don’t think that God has called you to do anything? Think again.  

Oh sure, God calls people to be Pastors, Priests, Evangelists, Missionaries, Nuns, etc. From what I’ve been able to gather, He doesn’t always place these callings on people’s hearts at the same age. One Pastor that I was speaking with got his calling at nineteen. Yet another was nine years old when God laid the call to ministry on his heart! 

There’s a group of young adults that are enrolled in 24/7, a three year ministry program here at Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham. These young people, numbering just over thirty, set aside college plans and secular career ambitions to answer God’s call to ministry. I’m blown away every time I’m in their presence.

What about the rest of us? Do we get callings too?

I believe that we do. For those of you who are hesitant to associate callings with anything other than careers, I’ll refer to what I’m talking about as “stirrings of the heart.”

What are some examples of stirrings of the heart?

Before I offer you a few examples, I’ll go ahead and caution you that answering some stirrings of the heart will be uncomfortable, if not down-right hard for you to do. Why? Because some of them call for us to do things that are out of our comfort zones.  You see, many of us are reluctant, if not flat-out unwilling, to do anything different that we don’t have to do.

Oh, there’s the “church things” that we hear so much about, like volunteering our time and talents to serve in various ways in our churches. And there’s volunteering in hospitals, or in community outreach centers in your city or town. These are all well and good, and if God has stirred your heart to get involved, I urge you to do so.

How about a stirring that’s more personal in nature? Like reaching out to console a friend who is hurting? Or offering to help a stranger in need? How about sharing what God has done in your life with someone who doesn’t know Him? Here’s a tough one, or at least it was for me: How about praying for someone, aloud and in their presence, because they’re hurting or simply in a bad place in life?

Here’s the thing…we don’t know what God has in store for us, or what He’s going to do for us, simply because we’ve answered a stirring that He’s put in our heart.

This passion that I have for God, and The Seed of Hope, and all that I feebly attempt to do in life for others, is the result of answering a call that God placed on my heart six or seven years ago. I met a young lady, the mother of two small children, who had recently gone through a bitter divorce. There was a stirring in my heart to offer words of hope and the promise of a better life with God in it to this young lady. I acted on that stirring; it was the first time that I had shared my faith with anyone.

As is turned out, this young lady went back to church, and more importantly, she turned back to God. Her life, and her outlook on life, improved dramatically. But I was the one that was truly blessed, because that “stirring” in my heart that I acted on radically changed my life.

Just do it.

If God has placed a stirring in your heart, please, please, please act on it. You have no way of knowing what He has in store for you if you do.

There is one thing that I know. If you will act on your stirring, the answer to the question “What does it take to get into heaven?”  will become evident to you, and much easier to achieve.

Many are called, but few choose to answer. 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 10/18/2010 at 9:37 AM | Categories:

Reminiscing

Seems like I’ve spent the last few weeks reminiscing about the past…

Two weeks ago I was celebrating my fifty-eighth birthday, so I had a lot to reminisce about. Hey, a lot of water flows over the dam in fifty-eight years, you know? (What are you laughing at? Either you’ve already celebrated fifty-eight, or you’re prayin’ that you’ll make it that long!)

Three days ago I attended the 1970 Senior Class of John Carroll Catholic High School’s 40th Reunion. Forty Years!  I have to tell you for some reason, celebrating my fifty-eighth birthday didn’t hit me near as much as the realization that it has been forty years since I was a graduating high school Senior with my sights set on conquering the world. Wow.

As it turned out, I had a hard time conquering my own little world, much less the world. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up hope. Oh I don’t really want to conquer the world, but I do want achieve whatever it is that God put me here for. It seems as though I’m getting a late start on doing that, but as they say, “It’s better late than never.”…

So we had this small gathering of long-lost friends from various parts of the country. Our planning committee, of which I was a member, had suspected that the turnout might be light for several reasons, including, but not limited to, apathy, the economy, previous commitments, and work schedules.

Out of a graduating class of just over two hundred, around fifty actually made it to the reunion. Spouses, our Principal, and a handful of teachers brought that number to just over seventy in attendance. Sadly, ten of our former classmates weren’t with us because their time in this world had passed.

The facility that we had rented for the evening became filled the sounds of laughter and fellowship; old friends recalling good times from long ago. I can’t tell you how many times I heard stories that began with “Do you remember when….” And I lost count of the hugs and handshakes that I gave, and received.

At one point in the evening I stood alone in the back of the room, surveying the gathering of my old friends. I was looking at them, but I wasn’t really looking at them. You see, I was trying to look deeper than the smiles that were on their faces.  Not that I could see it on their hearts and in their minds, but I was wondering how many of my old friends had achieved their own version of “conquering the world?” I was also wondering how many of them had, much like myself, felt the sting of falling short of making the dreams come true?

In what seemed to be the blink of an eye, the months of planning and anticipation came to an end, and the reunion was over. (In some way, I likened the process to what women go through when they’re planning a wedding.)

During the drive home, I wondered if it would be another ten years before I would see many of my old friends again. And quite frankly, I wondered how many more of us would be added to the list of the “dearly departed."

I also came away with two thoughts that have been with me ever since…

Many of my classmates were eagerly talking about their anticipated retirement, and what they were gonna do when they didn’t have to work. If I recall correctly, a couple of them have already retired.

As I listened to their plans, I was thinking about how far away I am from retirement. It’s not really about money. My wife Jackie and I have always lived fairly “close-to-the-vest”, opting for a moderate approach in what we’ve driven, where we’ve eaten, and where we’ve vacationed. We’ve never felt like we were sacrificing anything in the choices that we made, because what was most important was our relationship.

The result of those choices is that while we’re certainly not wealthy, retirement in a few years isn’t out of the question.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to retire! Oh, I can see Jackie and me stepping away from our hair salon here in Birmingham one day, or at least having a less active role in the day-to-day operations. Collectively, the two of us have been in the salon industry for over sixty years, Jackie being “behind-the-chair”, and me being everywhere else. As they say, all good things come to an end.

What I cannot envision is stepping away from working for God. Yeah, I know that writing The Seed of Hope, or sharing God’s Word with people, or offering counsel and prayer in the prayer room in our salon isn’t a real job. But you see, I’ve never had the passion or desire to do anything in life the way that I live to serve God, in any way that I can. Every day I ask Him to open doors for me to serve Him. Every day.

It’s been just over four years since I was born again and was filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. A couple of my friends used to laugh at my child-like exuberance for God, informing me that I was a newborn Christian, and assuring me that the passion for Him that consumed me would die down in time.

Well, guess what? It hasn’t happened yet, and I pray that it never will.

My other thought centered on change.

As I stood in the back of that room surveying the scene, I couldn’t help but notice the physical changes that all of us had gone through. I chuckled to myself as I realized that many of my friends looked exactly as their parents had when we were in school together! I hadn’t seen some of these people since graduation, and to see them again, not as teenagers, but as the next generation to be the oldest, was a bit unsettling.

But it was the inner-change that I sensed in my friends, rather than the change that I saw in their appearance, that impacted me the most. Life, and time, had left their marks. Our circle of friends had, individually, collectively, and for various reasons, changed. We had grown up.

And then, as is so often the case, my thoughts turned to God. And my mind was filled with an explosion of thoughts that I had grown older, and that so had my friends, and that some of us had died, and that we were no longer kids, and that our youthful innocence was but a fading memory, and that some dreams were given up on or forgotten years ago, and that things change, and that we change, and that the world around us changes every day, and that all good things come to an end, and that change is inevitable…

EXCEPT when it comes to God.

I realized that God never changes. It took me years to realize that it was my perception of Him that changed as I grew older, and not Him. He’s the same God that He was when I was a high school senior in 1970 at the tender age of seventeen, and at the not-so-tender age of fifty-eight. He is the same God that created the heavens and the earth, and the same God that spoke to Moses, and the same God that my great-grandparents, and my grandparents, and my parents, and now my children and grand-children, pray to and receive blessings from. The same God then, and the same God now.

In a world that’s constantly changing, that’s in such a state of turmoil and disarray, and that’s so filled with uncertainty, there is one constant that never changes: God. You need stability and hope for tomorrow in your life? Turn to God.

I leave you with the chorus from the song Everlasting God, by Glenn Packiam.

You never change, You’re still the same; You are the everlasting God. You will remain, after the day is gone and the things of earth have passed. Everlasting God.   

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 10/12/2010 at 1:29 PM | Categories: Life -

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