The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: July 2010

...about feeling God.

…about feeling God.

Have you ever felt God’s presence, either around you, or with you, or in you?

I’m not asking if you believe in God, or if you have faith in Him, or if you can wrap your mind around the concept of the Trinity, as in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I’m not asking you if you know that He’s with you, or if you know that He’s everywhere, of if you know that He’s in you. These are things that you’ve read, or heard, or have been taught.

What you believe, and what you know, are all matters of faith. You should know by now that I love talking about matters of faith, but we’re gonna save that topic for another day. On this particular day I want to talk to you about feeling the presence of God.

A Strange Place is the title of a post that was made a couple of weeks ago, in which I made several references to the fact that I was a bit unsettled because I hadn’t felt God’s presence in several weeks.

I received a lot of feedback from that post, and it was from that feedback that I came to realize a few things that I’d never considered before and something that I had forgotten… 

For the past six weeks, my wife Jackie and I have been hosting a small Bible/fellowship/discussion group in our home. During one of those meetings, I shared my feelings of frustration with our group. It was during a conversation afterwards that Greg, a good friend and co-leader of the group, confided to me that he had never really felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.

“Why not?” was the question that immediately crossed my mind, but I didn’t voice it aloud to Greg; I didn’t want to put him on the spot. Besides, I believed that it was a question that I was supposed to answer for myself.

Why don’t more people feel God’s presence?

I spent the next several days trying to answer the question. I’ll confess that while there was no sense of emergency to find an answer, the question never really left me. During prayer and meditation; Why not? During the day at work; Why not? Watching T.V. with Jackie; Why not?

The answers to the question actually came to me when I was looking back over my shoulder, as in reflecting on the man I was four years ago. I’m gonna throw all of them out there; perhaps you can relate to one or more (I can relate to all of them!). And I’ll preface what I’m going to tell you by saying that FEAR is at the root of every one of the answers.

Actually, there’s only one primary answer to the question:

Quite simply, and quite truthfully, I never tried to feel His presence. Oh, I asked for His help, especially during the hard times. I’d pray, and go to church, and receive the Eucharist, and fast during Lent, and do all the things that I was supposed to do; the things that I was taught to do. I never knew that I could actually feel Him, and all I had to do was ask. All those years…I just didn’t know to ask.

There are a few other things that stand between many of us and God.

·         We don’t seek his presence because we don’t think that we’re worthy of being in his presence. I feel that the worthiness issue is a huge stumbling block for most of us. We’re too busy looking over our shoulders at what we may have done in the past. We figure that there is no way that God could excuse us for some of the things we’ve done.

If that’s your line of reasoning, I’m gonna offer you one example that’ll blow your theory out of the water. For those of you not familiar with the Bible, I want to tell you in brief about this guy named Saul, who lived in Jesus’ time here on earth.

Saul was a Roman citizen whose primary purpose in life was persecuting Christians, and not just in the sense of dealing out orders for punishment. Yes, I’m talking about death sentences. This guy was responsible for the deaths of many Christians. In the eyes of God, how much worse can you get?

One day Saul is on the road to a town called Damascus with some of his men. At some point in his journey, he gets knocked off his horse, is blinded by a bright light, and hears the voice of God calling him.

At that moment, Saul’s life was changed. Saul went on to be an amazing servant of the Lord, and in fact played a huge role in the spread of Christianity. He healed the afflicted, and raised the dead! He also went on to be one of the largest contributing writers of the Bible. Don’t really recognize the name? Oh, I forgot to tell you. He changed his name to Paul.

What if Saul had deemed himself unworthy?

·         FEAR! I think that many of us fear God’s presence because, well because He’s GOD. It’s almost as if we’re afraid that He might see who we really are, and even worse, all those dark secrets that we tuck away in the recesses of our minds. I’m not trying to be cynical, but come on; He knows what’s in our minds as soon as we think it! (Probably sooner.)

I believe that the fear factor is even stronger when we think about being in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I won’t go into depth on this topic because it would be an entire post in and of itself. Today, I’m not gonna talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which includes Healing and Tongues. It’s the Tongue one that scares a lot of us, isn’t it? Our fears tend to makes us forget that the Holy Spirit is also, among other things, our Comforter, our Sustainer, and our Strength.

·         Many of us won’t allow ourselves to step outside the box of conventional religion. It goes back to what we learned as children from our parents, our churches, and our own personal experiences. Our minds won’t allow us to seek God in a different way, and it’s our own fears that are at the core of our reluctance to change.

If you believe that you’ve never felt God’s presence, or if you’re not sure, would you try something for me? This won’t take very long, and I pray that you’ll find it to be well worth the effort. And you don’t have to be in church to do it…

The first thing that I’d like for you to do is have one or two of your favorite worship songs ready to play. Don’t have any music at home? That’s okay. If you’re reading this post it tells me that you know how to use a computer. Visit www.Pandora.com and type in your favorite artist. If you don’t have a favorite artist, and are ready to broaden your horizons, just type in Hillsong United or Chris Tomlin. Either offers my favorite genre of worship music, not always for the melodies, but for the words.

Next, find a quiet place in your home, and say a prayer, asking God to forgive you for any and all things you’ve done in the past that were offensive to Him. Ask Him to remove any mental barriers that may prevent you from feeling Him. Tell Him that you want to feel His presence in you. Invite Him in. Prepare yourself mentally to feel Him.

Now cue up the music. When it begins playing, wait for Him. It doesn’t matter if you know the music, or the words; just let go and lose yourself in it. Look, if you really want to feel Him, do us both a big favor, and tell Him! Tell Him that you want to be with Him, that you want to feel the nearness of Him. You see, all that He’s waiting for is an invitation from you.

Then close your eyes and open both your heart and your mind. Be still, and be patient. He’ll show up; He always does. It may be in an earth-moving, heaven-shaking, or time-stands-still way when you feel Him the first time. Then again, it may seem to be nothing more than a gentle touch, or a tingle that runs up your spine, or the hairs on your arms standing straight up.

But when it happens, you’ll know it. And you’ll want to feel it, His presence, again and again and again. And life, as you know it now, will never be the same.

See you next week.   

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 07/26/2010 at 6:18 AM | Categories: Faith -

How God Works

How God Works

For the last several days I’ve sat down to write a post titled Feeling God’s Presence. Each time I’ve managed to type in a few sentences, and then come to a screeching halt. No inspiration. No ideas. No words. Nothing! Until a few months ago I would’ve been panic stricken. You see, I used to worry about waking up one morning with “writer’s block”, a syndrome that has abruptly ended the careers of many aspiring authors.

I’ve gotten to the point that I’m not really concerned when it happens, for several reasons. To begin with, I’m certainly not an author by any stretch of the imagination. And though I do write, I don’t consider myself to be a writer.

It goes a bit deeper than that. I write The Seed of Hope primarily for God. It’s my way of giving glory to Him by sharing what He has done, and what He continues to do, in my life. And I write The Seed of Hope with the prayer that something I’ve conveyed to you makes a difference in your walk with Him. Lastly, I write because doing so draws me closer to Him.

So I figure that if God wants me to write something, He’ll give me the right words to convey to you. And that’s exactly what He’s done, for the most part, since The Seed was launched in November of 2008.  

The only times that I’ve had trouble writing was on those occasions when I was trying to steer a particular post in a way other than the way that it seemed to want to “flow”, or when I was trying to share something without, well, without the inspiration to do so.

Apparently, God doesn’t want me to talk about feeling His presence this week! I believe that He wants me to tell you about what He did in my life since last week’s post, Rain. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, I’ll go ahead and tell you that in it I apologized for having misused the opportunity that this platform has given me to help others. And I swear to you, it seems as though that apology, or the act of asking for forgiveness, opened up the heavens for me to be bathed in God’s goodness….

Since last Monday’s post…

On Tuesday morning, I attended a small men’s group associated with Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham. To be in the presence of a group of men from all walks of life with the common goal of drawing closer to God was such a blessing. It seems that “real men” do love Jesus!

Later that Tuesday, I had the blessing, the opportunity, and the privilege of praying with two other individuals in our prayer room, The Seed of Hope office, which is located right in the middle of the salon! I found myself thanking God for His presence in our business, and for allowing me to be a small part of , and a witness to, what He’s doing in that room.

Wednesday night I attended a service at Highlands with my wife Jackie and my Mom (earth shaking…Mom is still a practicing Catholic) so uplifting that it shed any and all of the remaining “junk” that had been on my heart from the previous couple of weeks.

On Thursday night I attended a forty year reunion planning meeting with a gathering of my old friends and classmates from John Carroll Catholic High School and was invited to say a prayer before our meal (of course I prayed for more than just the food!). The following day I received a message from Teresa, one of those old friends from school. Teresa told me that she could sense my spiritual “awakening” and could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room.

On Saturday morning my small men’s group met at the home of a lady that attends Church of The Highlands. This lady, the mother of seven children, had run into a rough spot in her life, and needed some help on the outside of her home. Our small group spent over four hours toiling in the heat, giving her yard and home a good facelift. When we were finished, this teary eye Mom extended her sincere thanks for our efforts, and joined us for prayer in her back yard. During the prayer, I was silently thanking God for allowing me to be a part of the moment.

On Saturday night I was attending another small group that Jackie and I had been hosting in our home. As had been the case for the five previous weeks, God’s presence in our home was so overwhelming. I know that minds were opened, that hearts were touched; I could feel it. I found myself overwhelmed by the fact that this was happening in our home.

On Monday I was invited to share what was on my heart about God, life, and dreams with a group of young adults attending 2:52, a summer internship offered at our church. And that’s exactly what I did. I told them about my addictions, and weaknesses, and all the poor decisions that I had made when I was their age and through my adult years. And then I told them about all of the amazing things, the miracles, and the work that God has done in, through, and around my life. What a blessing it was for me to spend that time with those young people. I pray that I touched the heart of at least one person in that room…

Tuesday

It’s Tuesday, and my self-imposed Monday morning deadline for this week’s post came and went. I was a little concerned that God still hadn’t given me the desire or the inspiration to sit in front of this laptop. I figured that perhaps He had something else in store for me, something else that I needed to learn, or to experience. If not, there would always be next week. Maybe.

Late this morning I got the idea to write about the past week, or more specifically what God saw fit to put in my life. I took a break to have lunch with Jackie, and to check my e-mails. There I found a message from a young lady named Laura, who had found The Seed of Hope through a local publication a couple of months ago, but had just gotten around to visiting a day or so ago. I won’t go into the details of Laura’s message to me. I will tell you that it impacted me greatly, and it reminded me, once again, of why I write these things every week. How very blessed I am.

Look, the events that I’ve told you about may not be a big deal to you, but they were HUGE for me. There was a point a couple of weeks ago when I didn’t feel worthy of writing The Seed of Hope, of being a soldier of Christ, of being a light that shines, or of being anything that I strive to be each day. For Him to put me, to allow me to be in the midst of so many situations where He was present, was quite overwhelming. And I wanted to share it with you.

“God works in mysterious ways.” was one of my Dad’s favorite sayings. I know I’ve shared that one with you before, but it’s so true. We could never, in a million years, figure out what God is thinking, or the way that He works.

Only God could take a man, broken and full of remorse, and give him a week so incredibly uplifting that he felt as if he were standing on a mountain top, basking in God’s incredible light!

Only God. It’s how He works.    

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 07/20/2010 at 2:27 PM | Categories: Life -

RAIN!

RAIN!

The dry season ended, seemingly as quickly as it had begun. The absence of “feeling” God’s presence, that I shared with you in last week’s post, has been replaced by an infusion of His Spirit that has filled every inch of my mind, body, and soul. I stand in awe of God, completely overwhelmed by what He has allowed me to feel, and to “see”, since I last shared my thoughts with you.

The spiritual dry season that I just came out of was truly a gift from God. I learned a great deal, not during my time in the “desert”, but after I had reentered God’s “spiritual rain forest.” It’s been a week, and I’m still learning lessons from that time when I felt like I was away from Him. In fact, one of those revelations came to me as I was sitting down to write this post, and you’re going to be amazed (at least I was) at how it came to me.

Saul

This past Saturday night I was having a conversation with Saul, a young man who was attending a Bible study group that my wife Jackie and I are hosting in our home. We were talking about my dry season; when it began, how long it lasted, and what it felt like in the midst of it.

During our conversation, Saul was telling me about Jesus’ time in the desert, much of which I already knew. It lasted for forty days, during which Jesus had no food. He was hungry. He was tired. He was alone; almost. He was tempted three times by Satan.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2

 

What Saul revealed to me that I didn’t know was that Jesus’ real ministry didn’t begin until after his time in the desert. Before that time, He hadn’t even performed His first miracle and He wasn’t the teacher that He would prove to be. It seems as if Jesus’ time in the desert had elevated him to another spiritual level.

Saul’s words stayed with me all weekend. I kept thinking about Jesus’ time in the real desert, deprived of food, what we consider to be essential for life. Yet during that time He not only grew in Spirit and, when He should have been at His weakest, cast aside Satan.

Jesus said to him “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship, the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Matthew 4:10

 

So, Jesus was led to the desert by the Spirit.

 

This left me posing the questions, “I wonder if I was led by the Spirit into my dry season?” “Is He preparing to take me to another level spiritually?”

 

Well, I’m quite sure that it was part of God’s plan for me to enter the desert. But unlike Jesus, I don’t believe that I was led by the Spirit to fight the devil. No, I believe that I was led to it by the devil himself. Yep, you read right; I was led by Satan. And it was part of God’s plan.

 

I’m finding myself being lead to mention Job as a parallel for what happened to me. If you’ve never read the story of Job, which is in the Old Testament, I encourage you to do so. It’s a great lesson in faith, and remaining steadfast, and loving the Lord regardless of what you receive in life.

 

Here’s a condensed version: Job was a very wealthy man; a righteous, God-fearing, evil-hating man. He was married, with seven sons and three daughters. He had plenty of land, and owned thousands of heads of livestock and animals. He had numerous servants. In other words, Job had it all.

 

With God’s permission, and as a test of Job’s faith, Satan was allowed to take away everything that Job had in life; EVERYTHING he had. Still, Job’s faith in God, and his love for him, never wavered.

 

Am I comparing myself to Job? No. Had God allowed Satan to strip me of everything I owned? No, not that either. I used Job as example because we are tested every day. Some of these tests are from God, i.e. teaching us patience, and humility, and love. I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating: Nothing that we receive from God is bad. NOTHING. NO-THING that we receive from God is bad. Everything that we receive from God, even the things that we don’t understand, is part of His plan for us.

Conversely, nothing that we receive from Satan is good. NOTHING. He seeks only to destroy, and ruin, and put as many obstacles between ourselves and God as he possibly can. None of them are good, and like what we receive from God, and like what Job received, many are tests. But that’s where the similarities end. God didn’t bring anything bad into Job’s life, but He certainly allowed it to happen. It was part of his plan for Job.

Sorry for the detour. I don’t know why I felt compelled to talk about Job; I just felt that he should be included. Let’s get back to my being in the desert and how I was led there by the devil.

The night before The Seed of Hope was launched on October 31, 2008, I told God that The Seed was for Him. It was to be a means of telling the world about the amazing things that He had done in my life and sharing what I learned in my spiritual walk with others. The glory and praise would be, not for me, but for Him. I asked Him to give me the words to give to you.

Since that day, I have done exactly that every week. Except for one.

A couple of months ago, I was in a bad place. I won’t go into detail, but something happened in our business the week before that hurt me deeply. I struggled with my emotions, especially my anger. And my pride.

And Satan stepped in. On May 24th I wrote a post titled Betrayed. (Don’t bother looking for it, because it has been pulled.) Quite honestly, when I wrote it I wasn’t listening for God’s Word, or the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t sharing some amazing thing that God had done in my life, or passing along a nugget of truth that I’d gleaned from my spiritual walk.

If you’ve visited these pages before, you know that I share my personal experiences, both good and bad, with you. I try not to take things personally in life, try not to hold grudges, and try not to get even. But on that one occasion, I did all of the above, and I used this site as a platform for doing so. I put my feelings ahead of everything else. Satan put the bait in front of me, and I took it.

I failed the test; miserably. On that day, I stepped into my dry season, my desert. And I remained there for six weeks. (I know, that’s forty-two days, but who’s counting?)

In order of importance, The Seed of Hope ranks right behind God, Jackie, and my family. It has become my ministry. It is a gift from God. It is, quite simply, a huge part of my life.

I’ve apologized to God for what I did. I’ve apologized to the party that I, in my attempt to get even, offended.

It’s time now for me to offer an apology to you, for using this seed of hope, this gift from God, for my personal self-indulgence. You see, it’s the last step for me out of my own personal desert.

Thanks for visiting. I’m being showered with spiritual rain, and it’s beyond awesome, and I can’t wait to tell you more about coming out of the desert!

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 07/12/2010 at 3:08 PM | Categories: Life -

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