Viewing by month: November 2010
…Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32
The truth will set you free.
What a powerful statement. In it, there’s not even the slightest hint of wiggle room; no margin for error. Jesus didn’t say that the truth might set you free, or could set you free, or should set you free. He said that the truth will set you free.
Yet again, I’m going to wipe the egg off of my face and admit to you that I didn’t know that these were Jesus’ words until I began reading the Bible a couple of years ago. The truth will set you free. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times that I’ve heard that statement in my lifetime, or that I’ve actually said it myself.
I’m reminded of the memorable courtroom scene in the 1992 film A Few Good Men, when, during a heated exchange, lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) presses Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) for the truth on the witness stand. Pushed to the limit, and teetering on the brink of rage, Col. Jessup bellows “You can’t handle the truth!”
I wonder how many of us have a hard time facing the truth in our relationships, in our careers, in our finances, and sadly, in ourselves.
I know that for years I wouldn’t stand in front of the mirror and gaze into my own eyes because I knew that I wouldn’t like what I saw. I was the “front man” in the hair salon that my wife Jackie and I owned and operated. I was the first face that a client saw when they walked into our business, and my role included greeting them with a smile on my face and making them feel at home. Oh, I wore that smile on my face, and I did my very best to make them feel at home, and looking back on it now, I realize that I really enjoyed what I did because I love people.
But that was on the outside. The truth was that on the inside, I was a frustrated, angry, bitter man. While I knew what was inside of me, my feeble mind reasoned that if I stayed away from the mirror, I wouldn’t really have to see it. I wouldn’t have to face the truth.
Just yesterday I was reflecting on a section in a workbook from LIFE (Living In Freedom Everyday), a Bible study/fellowship group that Jackie and I attend on Sunday nights. This topic focused on footholds that Satan gets on us through character traits and personality flaws that are woven into the fabric of who we are. As I scanned through the list, which included anger, pride, depression, unworthiness, shame, rejection, abuse, lust, greed, fear, and control, I realized that not too many years ago I could lay claim to almost all of them.
“If you hold to my teachings, you really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I believe that there are so many people in the world today, including Christians, who feel that there is too high a price to be paid for being a true follower of Christ. They’re so consumed with the fear of what they may have to give up that they’re blinded to all that they’ll gain!
Before I continue, I feel the need to say something here…
Being a “true follower” of Christ is more than simply saying that you’re a Christian. It’s easy for me to say that I’m a multi-millionaire (which I’m not). It’s easy for me to say that I’m the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts (which I’m definitely not!).
Being a follower of Christ is a lot of work. It takes a lot of effort. We have to measure our every thought, word, and deed. We have to be aware of who we are, what we are, and what we do. We have to be a Christian every day and not just on Sunday. There are no “days off” from being a follower of Christ; no vacations, no sick leave, no leave of absence, and no time off for good behavior. Being a follower is a constant, conscious, commitment.
Be that as it may, the truth is that even if we do all those things each and every day, without fail, we’re still gonna screw up. Why? Well, because we’re humans. And look; saying that we’re human is not an excuse for screwing up, but an admission of our frailty in who we are.
I don’t care how hard we try, we’re gonna have those moments of anger, or pride, or greed, or lust. The difference is that as followers of Christ, we can be free from the constant bondage of all of these things. I still get angry from time to time, and I have to check my pride every now and then, and I still have moments of unworthiness, but I’m not held hostage by any of them. Freedom!
“…and the truth will set you free.”
There’s another “nugget of truth” that I’ve come to realize in the past couple of weeks, and truth be told, it was the inspiration or idea behind today’s post.
All of my life, I’ve tried to do or say whatever it would take to make other people happy. It was important for me to be accepted by people, and I figured that the easiest way to accomplish that was to keep ‘em happy. Even if it meant biting my tongue. Even if it meant turning my head so I wouldn’t see. Even if it meant swallowing my pride. Even if it meant sacrificing my happiness for theirs. Even if it meant not doing something that I needed to do.
I’ve been strongly criticized by a few people for a business decision that I had to make a couple of weeks ago. It was a hard decision to make, one that I prayed over for weeks before taking action, and when I did make that decision, it was with a clear conscience. Apparently, a couple of people didn’t agree with my conscience, and they let me know about it. And I was okay with that. A couple of them, however, questioned my walk as a Christian, which really bothered me. I wasn’t angered by their questions, but hurt.
As always, I turned to God for help. And I found the truth.
The truth is that I live to please no man. I seek only to please God. My measuring stick is what God sees in me, and not in what you see. If I can look in that mirror at the end of each day, and with a clear conscience, believe that what I have done is pleasing to Him, or in accordance with His commands, I am at peace.
And that, my friends, is a freedom that is like no other.
Amen and Amen.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/22/2010 at 10:40 AM | Categories:
Merriam-Webster defines obedience as:
a: an act or instance of obeying
b: the quality or state of being obedient
I think that when many of us hear or see God and obedience being used in the same sentence, or thoughts immediately turn to the Ten Commandments. They are, after all, God’s instructions for the way we should live our lives. Of course, if you want to read the ultimate instruction book on life’s dos and don’ts, I suggest that you turn to the bestselling book of all time, the Bible.
Today, I want to talk about another type of God related obedience, and this one focuses on what we should do, rather than on what we shouldn’t do. More specifically, this obedience relates to acting on opportunities that God puts in front of us, and the consequences of that obedience.
I’m gonna go ahead and tell you right up front that the last couple of weeks have left me in a state of “mental disarray,” and I’m not really sure of where I’m going with this, but I’m being obedient to what I believe He wants me to do…
I don’t know if you had the opportunity to read Blind Sided (last week’s post), but I was really struggling when it was written; so much so that, were it not for a not-so-subtle reminder from my good friend Melanie, the post may not have been written at all. Her message got me so fired up that I immediately opened this laptop and poured out what was on my heart.
Several days later, Melanie assured me that it was God’s prompting that lead her to send me the message in first place, and that He should get all the credit. While I didn’t disagree with Melanie for giving the credit to God, I was quick to point out that it was her obedience to His prompting that put everything in motion. He laid it on her heart to do something, and she did it. Obedience.
I began the first week of November on a spiritual high. On Monday I had the privilege and absolute blessing of sharing my testimony with a group of ladies at the Dream Center, a building funded and staffed by Church of the Highlands that serves as the nerve center of several community outreach programs here in Birmingham. Tuesday morning began with a new Seed post, and being given the opportunity to fill in for one of our Pastors as leader of a Bible study/fellowship group for men that meets each week in the hair salon that my wife Jackie and I own. Wednesday included lunch and amazing conversation with yet another Pastor from our church, and ended with a Spirit-filled church service that night.
I was on fire for God, and ready to go out and change the world!
And then the world caved in on me. One minute, I was on top of the world, and in seemingly the blink of an eye, I was so low that I had to look up to see the bottom, which in turn, made matters even worse. I was sinking spiritually, and I knew it, and I was praying and fighting it with all that was in me, and I was crying out to God for help. I was losing my temper over trivial things, and I was crying out to God for help. I was snapping at Jackie, and had no patience with people in our salon, and I was crying out to God for help. I was in prayer during fitful and restless sleep, and getting up and out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to listen to worship music, and crying out to God for help.
I was crying out to God for help!!!!!!!
And God answered, but not in a way that I expected. Bear with me…
About eight months ago God laid it on my heart to put a prayer room in our salon. I’ll be honest with you in saying that my initial response was “Really, God? You want a prayer room in our salon? Is that really what You want me to do? I mean, I’m already bold in what I do, and it’s probably cost us a few clients. But, a prayer room in a hair salon? REALLY?”
We opened the prayer room in May, with no real expectations as to when or how it would be used. Without going into detail, I’ll simply tell you that there have been a lot of people in our prayer room in the months that have followed, and there have been many, many prayers offered. Any reservations that I may have had about being worthy, or about “knowing” how to pray for others quickly vanished with the opportunities that God has presented to me on a fairly regular basis. Obedience.
So I’m having this horrible week, and I’m giving up hope, and I’m crying out to God for help, and what does He do? How does He respond to my cries for help?
Near the end of the work day on Thursday, the first really bad day, a lady who had been in attendance at the Dream Center earlier in the week comes in the salon and asks if I have a few minutes to talk with her in the prayer room. Even as I’m saying okay and walking with her towards the room, I’m thinking, “Really God? I’ve been praying to You for help, and You answer by sending me this sweet lady who needs some conversation and some prayer? Really?”
We sat and talked for close to twenty minutes, about her and her family, and we ended with prayer. Obedience.
The next day was even worse. I’d had another sleepless night, followed by crack of dawn worship music and prayer, and feeling that nothing was getting better, and still crying out to God for help. I didn’t want to go to work at all, but I did. What made it even worse was the fact that I was gonna have to let someone go at the end of the day. “God, are You listening? Can You give me a little help here?”
I have to tell you that at this very moment I’m smiling as I recount what happened that day, but at the time I was doing anything but smiling…
It was around eleven that morning, I just happened to be at front desk at the salon helping out a bit, and one of our guests who had been in the week before just happened to come in at that moment to purchase some hair spray. When the transaction was completed, she (the guest) turned to leave, then wheeled back around and without missing a beat said, “I want to take you up on your offer.” A moment of silence passed, because I was frantically trying to remember what my offer to her had been. She continued, “Last week you told me that if I ever needed to talk, or if I needed prayer, to let you know. Can we go to the prayer room and pray for my daughter?”
Offering the best smile that I could muster up, I replied “You bet! Follow me.”
As we walked to the prayer room, I remember telling God, “This is Your idea of helping me? Are You kidding me? You had better put some peace on my mind and in my heart if you really expect me to pray for this lady’s daughter.” (Some of you may be bristling at the idea of me speaking to God in this manner, but in my mind, my conversations with God are real prayers being offered to a real God.)
What happened next was truly amazing. I could sense that this lady’s concerns for her daughter were too overwhelming to talk about, and that she had a ton of hurt and fear on her heart, so I just began to pray. As I prayed, the lady, her daughter, and her family, became the only thing that mattered in my world. Everything else just faded away. And the peace that had been missing in my heart was suddenly there…. It was, without a doubt, a God anointed and God appointed moment; one that I’ll never forget.
You see, at that moment I realized that many blessings are to be gained by putting the needs of others ahead of our own, and that being obedient to opportunities given to us by God to help others can be a blessing in and of itself.
It wasn’t over…
I’d love to tell you that everything got better at that moment; that the act of praying for my friend and her daughter made all of my cares and worries just vanish. Poof!
Unfortunately, it didn’t. I continued to struggle until I received that wake-up call from Melanie several days later. During that time God gave me several opportunities to pray for people in that room, and I took advantage of every one of ‘em. So what’s my point?
When I was in the midst of a raging storm, and the skies were dark, and I felt that there was no hope, that I could no longer see the path, I was able to take shelter and feel God’s peace, if only for those few minutes when I was praying, not for my needs, but for the needs of someone else.
And I can’t help but wonder “what if” I had not been obedient to God’s “opportunities.” I have a feeling that I’d still be struggling, wondering what had happened to me, where the storm had come from, and when it was going to pass.
Amen and Amen.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/18/2010 at 2:06 PM | Categories:
Yeah, I’m aware of the fact that the title of today’s post is also the title of the award-winning movie that was released last year. The similarities end there, because whereas the movie was about a football player and an amazing woman, my post is about what happened to me last week, and the first couple of days of this one.
Before I continue, I want to dedicate today’s post to my friend Melanie, who, upon learning yesterday morning that there might not be a Seed post this week, snapped me out of my defeated state by sending me an e-mail that read:
“…shame on me for saying this, but shame on you for letting Satan stop you from posting. Who wins if that happens? AND you don’t always need to try to encourage your readers, even though you always do. Post the truth about what you’re going through.”
I slept on Melanie’s words last night, and I’ve made the decision to follow her advice by telling you what I’ve been going through, as best that I can. I’m gonna write this, not because I want to, but because I need to. I’m tired, and disgusted, and pretty much sick of being beat up this week. I’ve had it with people thinking that they can say what they want to me, or do what they want around me, or take advantage of the fact that I’m a Christian. What is it that makes some people think that a Jesus loving, God worshipping, Holy Spirit seeking person must to be a wimp?
I do love Jesus, and I do worship my Almighty God, and I invite the Holy Spirit to fill me and work through me every day. I seek His face, and long to feel Him with me and in me, and I try to be Christ-like as much as I can. Be that as it may, there are those days when I’ve just had enough of the “flaming arrows of the evil one,” and I question God’s plans for my life, and I cry out to Him, “God, are you gonna help me here, or what? Can’t You see that I’m struggling here, that I’m hurting here, and that I’m being beaten to a pulp? I’m in the middle of a raging storm at sea, and I’m sinking! How much more? How much more? HELP-ME-PLEASE!”
Sometimes, the storms pass quickly. Other times (and I hate it when this happens) the storms linger. Quite often these storms serve to draw me closer to Him. I believe that some of the storms are to teach me life lessons; that they’re God’s hand shaping me and forming me to be the Christian that I strive to be every day. Some are God’s way of preparing me to attain another level spiritually. And many are God’s way of testing my obedience to Him, and to what He’s called me to do.
During the past week or so, I believe that He used the storms for all of the reasons that I listed above. It has indeed been a very trying time.
Curiously, in the midst of the storms, not everything has been bad. In fact, God provided me with many opportunities to reach out to others, to share my testimony, and to pray for the needs of several people. Take away the challenges, and it truly was an amazing week. Of course, if we take away the challenges, life wouldn’t quite be the same for any of us, would it?
So what happened?
Simply put, I was blindsided by life, by people, and by Satan. And since I share everything that God puts on my heart, without reservation, I’ll go ahead and admit that I was blindsided by myself. Yep, you read it right. I did myself in.
You see, I don’t like confrontations. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news. I hate being the “bad guy.” I love leading people to Christ, or enlightening those who seek to know more of Him, through these pages. (Everything that I do is the result of wanting everyone to know what this feels like.) I gladly accept and desire the role of being a leader in any realm of God’s Kingdom and His people.
I believe that God has also given me the talent to be a leader in the business realm, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a reluctant leader. Why? Because as the leader of a team of seventeen people in our small business, there are times when I must be confrontational, and the bearer of bad news, and on occasion, the bad guy.
That was the case last week. I’d known for some time that there were a couple of people working for us that I needed to “let go.” It wasn’t that they were bad people. Both were classic cases of the right person having the wrong job, or vice versa. I was gonna have to be the bad guy and tell them that they were losing their jobs, because that’s part of my role as a leader in our business. Yeah, I was gonna have to be the bad guy, and fire a couple of people, and it wasn’t something that I really felt comfortable doing, and I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. As a matter of fact, I put off taking action for a long time, all the while knowing that they were hurting our business! Which in turn, made me beat myself up because I knew that I wasn’t living up to my responsibilities as a leader of the rest of the people that work with my wife Jackie and me. The worst part was that it was their actions, and not mine, that put their jobs in jeopardy to begin with. Yet I was the one carrying around this huge weight of guilt for what I was going to have to do.
I liken what happened to me next as the “domino theory”, wherein the toppling of one domino standing on end causes a chain reaction resulting in the toppling of each adjacent domino until they’ve all fallen.
My hesitancy in doing what I needed to do lead me to question if I was on the right path in life, which lead me to questioning my purpose in life, which lead to questioning His very plans for me. My life, and my mind, was suddenly filled with chaos. A week that had begun with so much promise was rapidly becoming filled with what I like to refer to as being “crap”.
And that’s when Satan stepped in, using people around me to create even more havoc. There’s something that I’ve learned about Satan. He’s always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to take us down. If we take our eyes off of God for a moment, or get distracted, or frustrated, or doubtful, he’s there. He’s like a vulture circling the skies, looking for “road kill”, or the weak, or those that have dropped their defenses. He will go to any extremes, using anyone that he can to get at you. Family members, close friends, and business associates are all in his arsenal of weapons. You see, when it comes to attacking God’s children, Satan knows no boundaries. He attacks even the strongest of souls, and when he does, he’s relentless. Given the opportunity, he will pound you into submission.
As recently as last night, I was nearing the point of walking away from everything that Jackie and I had worked for. The attacks were coming, wave after wave, from all sides, and I was just about ready to give up. The tragic part was that I was my worst enemy. I had given Satan the smallest window of opportunity to get into my mind, and he was having a field day.
I went to bed last night in prayer, asking…no, make that begging God to give me help. I was tired, and broken, but I was never going to stop loving Him, or serving Him, no matter what His plans were for me. And that’s exactly what I told Him.
I awoke this morning with the belief that God’s plan for me today would include an end to the chaos that had engulfed my mind for the past ten days. I made my way to my prayer chair in our kitchen and thumbed through my Bible searching for the nugget of truth, God’s Word, that would give me hope for a better day.
I actually found two nuggets, and both are from the book of James.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
I shared the wisdom and the promise of both passages with Jackie, and made a mental promise to God and to myself to make the most of the day that He’d given me.
A few hours later I received Melanie’s e-mail, urging me to write this post, and challenging me with the question, “Who wins if that happens?”
I immediately began working on this post. No way that Satan was gonna win the day. Besides, the victory was won the day that Jesus climbed on that cross for us. If we keep that thought in the forefront of everything that we say, in every thought that we think, in every action that we take, and in every step that we make in life, we will never lose.
And Satan will never win.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 11/10/2010 at 10:34 PM | Categories:
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