Viewing by month: April 2010
A few weeks ago I told you that I had been given the absolute blessing of sharing my testimony during the Easter weekend with two other members of Church of the Highlands here in Birmingham. I was humbled that God opened the door for me to share my story, considering that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of members at Highlands with their own unique stories that would have been more than happy to openly share what was on their hearts with others.
Well, the “numbers” are in from the twenty-nine services that were held at the six Highlands’ campuses that weekend, and they are, in my humble opinion, rather astounding.
An almost unbelievable 21,481 people attended the Easter services at Highlands! Even more incredible was that fact that of those thousands in attendance, 3,421 of them made a decision to begin a relationship with Christ (my calculator tells me that this computes to 15.9%).
I have to tell you, I was blown away by those numbers, grateful that I had been invited to be even a small part of the services, and even more grateful to be a member of a church that is drawing so many people to Jesus.
But then I wondered…
What if the second number had been 1? Just one. And what if the percentage had been a paltry .000046?
Would I have been as humbled or grateful? Would I have been as blessed? Would I, in fact, even be telling you about our one, singular success in this post?
To be honest with you, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it. I would, however, have been just as humble, grateful, and blessed; for that one person.
What if I had been that one person who didn’t know God, or didn’t have Jesus in my life, or had never been filled by the Holy Spirit? Would I have wanted someone to make an effort just for me? What if it had been you? Would you have wanted to be “found”?
Earlier this week I finished reading a book written by Pastor and noted author Bill Hybels titled HOLY Discontent, (Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision). In his book, Hybels talks about one particular aspect of the world in which you live that, well, that you can no longer tolerate! And then you do something about it.
He cited the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man, when he was fed up with a particular situation, proclaiming “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!”
“Popeye moments.” When you reach the point that you just can’t stand something in the world that you’ve seen, or heard, or read about. Perhaps it’s something that you’ve experienced. It’s that defining moment in life when you’ve just had enough. I’m not talking about bad drivers, or people that cheat on their taxes, or people that break in line. I’m talking about things that in society that have a negative impact on others. In our cities and states. In our country. In our world.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, a young teacher in Calcutta, had her Popeye moment after seeing countless numbers of men, women, and children who were destitute, homeless, hungry, and disease stricken. She committed her life to doing something about it. At the time of her death Agnes was simply referred to as Mother Teresa.
A young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. had seen people of his race, blacks, being pushed to the back of the bus, being forced to eat in a separate area, and being deprived of equal opportunities in education and in the career field. And being lynched. He’d had enough, had his Popeye moment, and dedicated his life to making things different. That dedication ultimately cost him his life.
There’s the evangelist Billy Graham, and Dr. Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, one the largest Christian relief organizations in the world. Both had Popeye moments.
Something tells me that each of these amazing individuals would have been just as dedicated in improving the life of one person as they would have the lives of one thousand, or one million.
I believe that, upon its discovery within, that a Holy Discontent ignites a fire, a passion, in an individual that cannot be ignored. This has certainly been the case with me.
My Holy Discontent centers on those with no hope in their lives for a better tomorrow. I simply cannot stand it when I encounter someone whose life is void of hope, or of the promise that life can be anything more than a one way ticket to despair. Meeting a hopeless person reminds me of, well, of the way that I used to be. Before I knew God.
I know that with God all things are possible, that He will provide me with all that I need, that He will comfort me, shelter me, and pick me up when I’m down. With God in my life, hope is a constant companion. The man that I am with Him is so much more complete than the man I was without Him.
And so I write The Seed of Hope. And I use our business as a platform to spread His word. And I give glory and praise to His name. And I never pass up an opportunity to share the promise of a new and better day with Him in it, using what He has done in my life as an example.
I want everyone to know the sheer and absolute joy of living life with God in it. That’s my Holy Discontent. It’s my passion, my driving life force, my way of trying to make the world a better place.
I invite you to find the source of your Holy Discontent. Oh, believe me; it’s there, just waiting to be found. Look, you don’t have to change the world. Start small. Look inside your heart for that one thing that you just can’t stand any more, the one thing that will make a difference; even if it’s just for one person. You’ll find it. In fact, you may already have an idea of what it is.
The next step is for you to do something about it. If you do. Make that, when you do, you’ll find that the most incredible thing happens. The more that you feed your Holy Discontent, the more it will feed you. And you’ll find that your life is richer, fuller, and more complete than you ever imagined possible.
You see, our real blessings in life come from being a blessing to others. Even if those “others” are, in fact, just one.
Have a blessed week!
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 04/26/2010 at 7:51 AM | Categories:
Father, I thank You for Your presence in my life.
I’m always aware of Your presence, but this past week I sensed even more of You than I thought possible. You never left my side, did You? You were there, with me, giving me the strength, courage, and conviction to do some things that I didn’t really want to do, to say some things that I really didn’t want to say, and to keep going when I wanted to quit.
I knew that You were there with me, and it was Your nearness that helped me to remain steadfast in my walk, to measure my words, and to do things in the manner in which You would want them to be done.
I know that there are times when I take Your presence for granted, and I’m truly sorry for that. Sometimes, when my life is on cruise control, I forget that it is You doing the driving, and not me. This week, I was more than happy to let You take the wheel, and very grateful that You did.
I went to church this morning, grateful that I had gotten through the week, and eager to start a new one by seeking the comfort of being in Your “house” with Jackie, our friends, and fellow Christians.
The plan was for me to put things in place for the first service at 9:30, leave and meet Jackie and some of our friends for breakfast, then return to church for the 11:15 service.
Well, You had other plans for me, didn’t You?
There had been a mix-up, and the couple that had offered to help at the 9:30 service didn’t show up, so I had to call Jackie and tell her to go on without me. Disappointed, yet determined to serve You, I put on the best smile that I could to welcome visitors into our church. I was reminded of my life just a few short years ago, when I had to put on a mask of happiness every day in order to welcome people in my business. But this time it was different; this time, the smile was real, in spite of the disappointment that was on my heart.
And I was thinking, “Why is this happening today? All I wanted to do was to go to breakfast with Jackie, and then go to church. Was that too much to ask for?”
You knew what You were doing, didn’t You? You were setting the table for me….
Opting to sit outside the church in a “funk”, rather than attending the service, I pulled out my i-phone and decided to check my e-mails. I had received a message from my good friend Susie on Thursday, but hadn’t taken the time to read it.
Her message was about trials and tribulations, and knowing that You will always be there to protect us, if we will put our complete faith in You. That You will always be with us. That You will lead us through trying times so that we may serve as a witness to others as to what You have done.
While Susie’s e-mail made me feel better, I still wasn’t really happy with the way the morning had played out.
You were setting the table for me…
Jackie and our friends finally made it to church, and we took a seat right up near the front, which is where I always like to sit. This morning, though, I really didn’t care where I sat. I was ready to go home.
The worship portion of the service began, and I sang the songs with all that was in me, but I believe it was more of releasing what was bottled up inside rather than praising You. As I sang, I could feel the tension melting away. But it was still there.
Pastor Chris began his message. It was the second part of a series titled My Best Friend, and it was about You, the Holy Spirit. As he spoke about You, and what we receive when we welcome You into our lives and into our hearts, an amazing thing happened.
I found myself reflecting on the day that I made a commitment to be one of Your soldiers, and to take Your message to whoever would listen. On that day I vowed to stand up for You, to fight for You, and to shine for You. And since that day, I have done everything in that is in me to live up to that vow.
Today, sitting in church, almost four years after I made that commitment to You, I realized that I had never surrendered myself to You, and to Your will, and to Your plan for me. With tears streaming down my face, I found myself letting go of my plans for what I was going to do for You…
How ironic is it that a soldier would find peace in surrender?
Father God, I completely surrender my life to You. I ask You to use me in whatever way You see fit. I ask to filled by Your Spirit daily, and ask You to release Your Spirit in me, so that I may truly be a light that shines for You. May I never question Your plans for me, or the how, the why, and the what You want me to do for You. I seek only to serve You, and to make You happy. I will use all the gifts that You have given me to give glory and praise to You. I ask You for the strength and wisdom to carry out Your plans for me. I am grateful that I am your son, and that You are my Father. In the name of Jesus, I offer this prayer to You.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 04/19/2010 at 9:01 AM | Categories:
A God of Fear?
A few weeks ago I was giving my testimony for the Easter Sunday services at Church of the Highlands here in Birmingham. Three members from Highlands, including myself, had been invited to share our respective “God stories” with the church in a video that would be shown at all the services.
It was during my taping session that I became aware of the fact that for years (fifty-five of them if you’re counting), everything that I did in regards to my faith was, well, for the wrong reason.
Do you ever think about why you go to church? Or why you follow the Ten Commandments? Or why you ask God for His forgiveness?
In matters of faith, especially when it comes to your relationship with God, are you motivated by love for Him, or fear of Him?
Without mentioning a specific denomination (I don’t know that it matters), I’ll tell you that I grew up in a Christian family. I went to church every Sunday because my parents did. And I prayed to God because my parents did. The same can be said about receiving communion, and fasting, and confessing my sins to God.
What I’m saying is that my faith in God was based on what I’d seen, or what I’d learned in religion class, or on what I’d been told to do. I think it was the last one, the things that I’d been told to do, that motivated me more than anything.
Why? Well, as is so often the case when we’re told to do something as kids, there’s that dreaded “or else” attached to it. Come on, as a child how many times did you hear “You better clean up your room, or else you’re gonna be punished.” Or maybe “If you don’t pull those grades up, you’re gonna be grounded.” And then there was the classic “You do that again, and you’re gonna get a whipping.” You get what I’m trying to say, don’t you? I knew that if I did some things, or if I didn’t do other things, something bad was gonna happen. To me! You can relate, can’t you?
Sadly, when it came to God, I felt the same way.
Look, 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 this 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.
That seed germinated, and became a plant. Well, I guess that it was more a weed than anything else. And like most weeds, its roots ran deep.
That fear of God? It stayed with me through my childhood, my teen years, and most of my adult life.
Okay, I have to admit something here. Don’t know why I feel compelled to admit it to you. It’s just another piece of baggage that I feel it’s time to put down…
I quit going to confession as soon as I was old enough and had the freedom to quit going to confession. Oh, I still asked God for His forgiveness, but in my own way, and in my own words. I just didn’t believe that I had to go through someone else to get to God…
So anyway, it was fear, and not love, that kept me in front of God. Those dad-gum “or else” threats were still haunting me.
I’d better go to church, or else…
I’d better not sin, or else…
I’d better pray to God about this, or else…
I’d better fast during Lent, or else…
How sad it was that for all those years, I was looking at God through the eyes of a fearful man, rather than through those of a son looking to his father. Even sadder was the fact that, by my example, my own sons were also taught about the God of Fear.
Can you imagine trying to have an intimate relationship with someone based on fear? Couldn’t be a very good one, could it? Wouldn’t think that it would last very long, would you? Neither would I.
I tried to have a relationship with God, not because of what He might give me, but because of what He might take from me if I didn’t go to church, or pray, or fast, or live a life free of sin. The foundations of my faith were built on fear. It’s just that simple. It’s just that wrong.
Look, I’m gonna remind you that I’m no theologian; I can’t refer to something that I learned in the seminary. I don’t know the Bible that well; quite often I can’t point you to a specific Chapter and Verse to support what I want to say.
In this particular instance, I can only tell you what I believe in my heart. And because I believe it in my heart, I can only believe that it is true:
Our God is a God of love. Oh, those that don’t walk with Him, and those who would oppose Him, should fear Him indeed, for He is all-powerful. While Satan is a worthy adversary for us mortals, he is nothing, and would stand no chance against God. Our omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, God. For all that He is, there is nothing that God wouldn’t do for us.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NIV
Our God is a God of love. The day that I made the decision to have a relationship with Him based on love rather than fear, an amazing thing happened. Replacing the fear of God in my mind with love for Him allowed my heart to open to receive the unfathomable, immeasurable, never-ceasing love that He has for me. Our God is an amazing God, and an incredible Father. He is a loving Father.
Our God is a God of love. If your relationship with God isn’t what you want it to be, you may want to question if your faith in Him is based on fear. If that’s the case, believe me: your relationship with Him will never be what it could be. You will never fully love Him, and you will never fully feel His love, until you change your way of thinking.
I want to close with one of my favorite verses from the Bible. Yeah, I said that I didn’t know the Bible that well. I didn’t say that I don’t know it at all…
However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:9
Doesn’t say the first thing about fear.
God is good.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 04/12/2010 at 6:44 AM | Categories:
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