The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: February 2011

...was blind but now I see.

This is yet another of those instances when I kinda know what’s on my heart, but don’t have the slightest notion of the best way to express exactly what it is, so bear with me, would you?

Every once in a while, someone or something comes along that impacts me immediately. I don’t have to know the why, or the how. I just know that it means something. That ever happen to you?  

I’ve always loved the song Amazing Grace, which was written and published in 1779 by the English poet and clergyman, John Newton. It’s a song about forgiveness and redemption, and its message plants a seed of hope in all who are willing to receive it. Amazing Grace also holds a special place in the heart of my wife Jackie. I don’t know that she’s ever heard the song without being moved to tears, or at least not when I’ve been with her. Perhaps that’s why I sang and recorded my own version of it for our wedding in 1989. It caught her totally by surprise, and I can still remember Jackie fighting back tears while it was playing, which in turn, had me doing the same thing.

The funny thing is… Check that. Perhaps the more fitting thing for me to say is that the most amazing thing about Amazing Grace was its importance to me when I didn’t even know what God’s amazing grace was. It’s another one of those instances where God knew that it was gonna mean a lot to me one day; He was just waiting for my mind to catch up to what was in my heart!

When I finally realized the depth of God’s of grace, it brought me to my knees in gratitude and thankfulness. I still spend a lot of time there, on my knees, before our amazing God. There’s just something that feels good to me about physically humbling myself before Him.

Blind

Curiously enough, today I want to talk about the “flip side” of amazing grace. For me, there’s a paradox that lies within “I once was lost, but now I’m found, Was blind, but now I see.”

Oh yeah, my eyes were opened when I was born again. For the first time in my life, I saw God as my Father the Provider, the Holy Spirit as my Comforter and Strength, and Jesus as my Savior.

I have to insert something here. I’m reminded of a verse from the 1965 Simon & Garfunkel classic The Sounds of Silence:

People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening.

Okay, I know that I was talking about sight, and this particular verse is about speaking and hearing. The parallel lies in the fact that that speaking, and listening, and sight are all about our senses.

Right now I’m looking out the window of our prayer room and I can see trees, the sky, and a lady walking across the parking lot. If I look out the same window, with a different perspective, with a different set of eyes, I see living trees, an incredible sunset, and a walking, thinking, child of God. Now, I not only see, but I see. You get what I’m saying here?

Okay, if you think that I’ve “lost it” you may be right, but I’m not finished.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  2 Corinthians 5:7

Three years ago, before I knew that this verse in the Bible even existed, I was attending a spiritual retreat in the mountains of Oregon. In attendance was a recording artist named Suz Ogden, and she played and sang a song (I’m not sure of the title) that included the refrain:

I walk by faith, and not by sight. I live by what I know is true.

Yet another instance of God waiting for my heart (or perhaps my spirit) to catch up with the words of this song that were immediately burned into my memory banks! Days, perhaps even weeks after the retreat, I found myself singing, “I walk by faith and not by sight……”

Blinded Sight

Actually, the day that I was born again was, in reality, the day that I began to lose my sight! It wasn’t like I woke up one morning and I was blind; nothing as radical as that. It wasn’t immediately impactful as Jesus restoring the blind man’s sight. This was a slow but steady process. In fact, it was such a subtle change that I wasn’t even aware that it was happening.

As my walk with the Lord became the focal point of my life, and as my knowing of Him and my faith in Him became deeper, my vision slowly, but surely deteriorated. My love for Him became, and still is, so intense that I was blinded to everything else.

When that happened, I learned the true meaning of walking by faith and not by sight. For me, it’s absolute, unwavering belief that God has the perfect plan for me…that He’s gonna supply me with everything that I need…that He’s never gonna let me fall down and stay there…that I no longer have to walk in fear. What freedom.

Still, I have to tell you that while walking by faith alone is an absolute blessing, it requires even more faith to stay on the path.

You see, I used to have a clear vision for our salon; want I wanted it to be, and where I wanted it to go. I used to have a clear vision for my life with my wife Jackie; where we’d be in five years, and what we’d be doing. I used to have a clear vision for The Seed of Hope and my ministry; what it would become, and where it would take me. I had a clear vision for all the important things in my life.

Today, other than serving the Lord with all that’s in me, I don’t have a defined vision for any of them. It’s not that I don’t think about each one of them. I do, but I guess that my thoughts fall within the realm of dreams (which is going to be my next topic unless God lays it on my heart to write about something else). I’m talking about a clear vision, as in something specific.

Let me give you a simple analogy.

Let’s say that you put a $100 bill on a doorframe in your home that’s just beyond your reach. Let’s also say that every morning when you walk through that door you reach for that bill on the wall. For you to have any chance for touching it you have to jump for it, which you do; and you fall just short of your goal. Undaunted, you jump every time you walk through that doorway. Every time. Every day.  Days turn into weeks, perhaps even months. Still, you keep on jumping.

Guess what’s happening every time you jump? If you haven’t figured it out already, I’ll go ahead and tell you that with each jump you’re building up the muscles in your legs. You know what’s next, right?

One morning, on the way out the door, you jump for that $100 bill, just as you’ve done time after time after time, but this time you come down with that greenback in your hand! Jubilation! Celebration! Satisfaction.

That’s the kind of vision that I’m talking about. I don’t have that anymore, and I miss it. It’s hard for me to stay motivated all the time when I don’t have a goal.

Eureka!

Today’s post is a wakeup call for me. I feel like I just got hit right between the eyes, and I know that it’s for a reason.

I do indeed walk by faith and not by sight. I do indeed live my life by what I know is true: God is all that I need.

I believe in a big God. I believe that with Him, all things are possible. I believe that He has a perfect plan for me, but I’m beginning to think that He’s waiting for me to add some details to His plans. Perhaps He’s just waiting for me to hand some audacious, specific, goal-oriented, Kingdom-driven, “I-believe-that-this-is-why-You-put-me-here-God-and-I’m-ready-and-willing-so-what-are-you-waiting-for?” requests to Him.

I get it God. I’ll be asking.

I’ll see you next time. It’ll be about dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 02/28/2011 at 12:56 PM | Categories: Faith -

Smiling in My Shame

I know, I know…you’re probably wondering how smiling and shame could possibly go hand-in-hand. After all we associate smiles with happy times and joyous events, right? We smile about the good things. Conversely, we associate shame with guilt, remorse, and the embarrassment that comes with the territory. Shame is rarely, if ever at all, linked to something good, much less something to smile about.

Or is it?

Earlier this week I was preparing to co-lead a LIFE (living in freedom everyday) class for a group of young men who are attending 24/7, a ministry program here at Church of The Highlands in Birmingham. The students range in age from eighteen to twenty-five, and my co-leaders Eric and Jason, are thirty-seven and thirty-three, respectively. At fifty-eight, I’m far and away the oldest one in the group!

At first, I thought that my age may be a liability. I mean, in theory, I’m old enough to be a grandfather to a few of ‘em, and I wondered if they would tune me out because of the generation gap. Concerned, but undaunted, I decided to bring my transparency (and all the mistakes I’ve made that comes with it) to the guys with the same fervor that I approach life every day; all, or nothing at all, with no in-betweens. I figured that if nothing else, I could my share my experiences and the pain that accompanied many of those experiences with them, so that they might learn from my mistakes.

As with writing The Seed of Hope, or talking with someone in the prayer room, or with anything that I do that is for God, I took my role as a teacher of these young men very seriously. Each week, in preparation for our meeting, I pray for the Lord to give Eric, Jason, and myself some new “nugget of truth” that we can pass along to the guys.

This past Tuesday, as I was driving to the meeting, the Lord did indeed give me one of those nuggets. To be honest with you, the nugget was a personal epiphany for me, and was the source of my shame…

Fellowship

The previous week’s lesson had been on God’s unconditional love for us. We discussed Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, and the fact that God went looking for them after they had eaten the forbidden fruit; not to condemn them, but rather to love them.

That unconditional love was the inspiration for last week’s post, My Un-God and it was still in the back of my mind as I was preparing for this week’s meeting, which focused on fellowship with God, our relationship with Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

I was in the car on the way to the meeting, listening to worship music and praying, when I recalled something that I’d read earlier that day in a book written by Rick Joyner titled There Were Two Trees in the Garden.

Before the Fall, the first-creation man could walk and have fellowship with God, but this is far short of what we have been given as the new creation. Now we do not just walk with God and have fellowship with Him—He has come to live in us!

My nugget

Okay, what I’m gonna share with you may seem elemental to you. You may have known this for years, maybe since you were a child, and that’s okay too. I’m a bit astounded because it took me fifty-eight years to realize this. Fifty-eight years, one hundred and forty one days, to be exact! I’m talking all my life! It took me all of my life, all of my days on this earth, to realize this one simple truth.

First, a few questions:

Do you believe that God is omnipresent? That is to say, to believe that God is everywhere? If you say “yes’ to that, I’ll move on. (If your answer is “no”, then I’m dead in the water. I’ll see you next week.)

Do you believe in the Trinity, as in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Again, I’m assuming that your answer is “yes”, so I’ll move on.

If you believe that God is omnipresent, and that He is one in three, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is it safe to assume that you believe that Jesus is living in you? Please say yes, or if you don’t really believe it, at least entertain the notion that it could be possible.

I’m getting to the nugget, I promise. Before I do, I have to ask you a couple of more questions, and I’ll apologize in advance for them being a little “in-your-face.”

Would you ask Jesus to get drunk with you?

Would you ask Him to snort cocaine, or smoke pot with you?

Would you ask Him to look at pornography with you, or curse with you, or steal something with you, or belittle someone with you?

Would you ask Jesus to do anything with you that was offensive to His Father?

Would you?

I did.

You see, until three days ago as I was driving to that meeting to be with my Christian brothers, I never realized that not only is Jesus my companion, but He is in me. He is part of me, you see? I am a Christian. I am a follower of Jesus. I am a believer of the living Christ, and I believe that He lives in me.

In the blink of an eye, in one beat of my heart, I realized that Jesus was with me all those times that I had sinned against my Father…that I had sinned against others…that I had sinned against myself. I had asked the one who came to save me to, in a sense, to lie in the gutter with me. And He did.

In yet another blink of the eye and one more beat of my heart, I was overcome with a profound and overwhelming sense of…

Shame.

Look, I tell people all the time that they need to quit looking back at the past; at what they’ve done, when they’ve done it, and who they’ve done it to. God doesn’t care what you did or who you were yesterday. He’s more concerned with who you are today, and what’s in your heart. He loves us with unconditional love and blesses us with unending forgiveness.

Until that very moment, I thought that I’d already fully dealt with the shame and regret of what I’d done in the past, but as I pulled to the side of the road to recover from what felt like a punch in the gut, I realized that I hadn’t. I sat there for, I don’t know, several minutes, just telling God that I was sorry, not for what I’d done, but for what I’d done to Him.

In that third blink of an eye and yet one more beat of my heart, my shame gave way to a…

Smile.

Yep, I was sitting behind the wheel of my FourRunner, wiping tears off of my face while wearing this huge cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin.

You see, in one those “life flashing before your eyes” moments, I recalled all the bad, dumb, and immoral things that I had done before my spiritual awakening in 2006, and all that God has seen fit to do with me and in me since. He not only wiped the slate clean and gave me a fresh start, but He gave me a ministry to go with it.

That day I truly came to realize the depth of His unconditional love and unending forgiveness.

And I sat there, smiling in my shame...  

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 02/18/2011 at 12:54 PM | Categories: Faith -

My Un-God

This is for my good friend Bob, who, in his own genuine in-your-face way of saying things, suggested that I should write a post that focuses on the good things of having a relationship with God, instead of on the challenges of being a Christian.

Taking Bob’s lead, I’m going to share what’s on my heart about the good stuff; about what God has done, and continues to do in my life every day. This is what my Un-God “brings to my table”…

Unconditional love

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that as a child you either sang or heard “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” I can’t tell you how many times I joined in with my childhood friends in singing this classic, but I can tell you how many times I believed what I was singing: None. You read it correctly the first time. None. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

No, I’m not trying to be controversial here. I just never believed that Jesus, or God, really loved me. Why not? Well, to begin with, I never read the Bible. Neither did my parents. (I remember this HUGE Family Bible that used to sit on the top shelf of the hall closet in our home. I’d bring it down every once in a while to look at it, because it looked real expensive and had some really pretty pictures in it.) The church that my parents attended never really stressed reading the Bible. What I’m trying to say here is that the Bible wasn’t much more than a book to me, because it didn’t seem to be much more than that to my parents or our church. Why should I believe a book?

There’s one more reason for my disbelief, and I believe that it was at the heart of the issue. I don’t believe that love can be found in a book; not even in the Bible. Wouldn’t you agree that you can read about love, and you can write about love, and you can hear about love, but the only way that you’re going to know what love really feels like is to experience it?

I didn’t begin to feel God’s love until a few years ago, when I opened my eyes to all that He has done for me, and I accepted Him as my father. That’s when I began to love Him, and that’s when I really begin to realize the depth of His love for me. You see, I don’t think that you fully feel the love of the Lord until you give Him that same love.

Unending forgiveness

How many friends, family members, or loved ones do you have that are willing to forgive you, regardless of what you’ve done, or how many times that you’ve done it?

Really?

As much as my wife Jackie loves me, I’ve gotta believe that if were to keep hurting her repeatedly for the same offense, regardless of what it was, that at some point she’d have a hard time finding forgiveness in her heart for me. Even if she were to keep “turning the other cheek” time after time, she’d have a hard time forgetting the pain that I caused her.

Not so with God. You see, His Son already paid the price for every offense that you already have committed, and the ones that you haven’t even committed yet. Forgiveness, complete forgiveness, is yours, just for the asking.

He is the ultimate Father. All is forgiven. All is forgotten. The slate is wiped clean. How many chances do you get to get it right with God? As many chances as you need. He knows a remorseful heart.

Unbridled passion

When I opened my heart up to God, it opened my heart to the world. You see, I was filled with, not only a passion for Him, but for life.

Passion is an infectious thing! When I became passionate about God, it spread like wildfire. I was more passionate about my relationships with people, my career, and even my hobbies. It was almost as if I was looking at things that had always been in my life with a new set of eyes. Funny how the heart and the eyes are so connected…

Unmatched boldness

Believe it or not, I used to be a man of very few words. I mean, I wouldn’t even take for up myself, or speak my piece, much less talk openly about my faith or my love for God. I didn’t want to be confrontational. Besides, it was just so much easier to throw myself under the bus than to spend all the effort that it took to dodge it or throw someone else under it.

All that changed in 2006, not long after I invited the Lord in and offered to be a Soldier of Christ. You see, that’s when the Holy Spirit stepped in.

Look, a lot of people don’t want to hear, learn, or say anything about the Holy Spirit because, well because they’re afraid. I’m telling you here and now that if you’ll invite the Holy Spirit in everyday, and then release Him to work in and through you, He’ll do exactly that!

If you think that I’m just referring to being bold in your faith, you’re wrong. When you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, His presence touches every facet of your life. Invite Him in, and you’ll see for yourself.

Unwavering Faith

What is unwavering faith? It’s a knowing. I know that God is with me every step of the way. I know that He has a plan for all of us, and that He has a plan, a perfect plan that was designed just for me. I know that He’s gonna pick me up every time that I stumble and fall. I know that He will provide me with everything that I need. I know that He gives me, among other things, strength, wisdom, and understanding. I know that He has, and will continue to open doors for me that no man can. I know that with Him, I can do anything, and without Him, I can do nothing.

Unparalleled joy

Did you know that unparalleled means “having no equal or match”? So do you get the importance of me saying that my relationship with God fills me with unparalleled joy? I don’t know that I can add anything to this one.

fUN

I’m aware of the fact that this doesn’t begin with UN, but I couldn’t pass this one up! Walking with Jesus every day is fun! Being filled by the Holy Spirit is fun! Having a Father that loves, and forgives, and forgets, and nurtures is fun! Worshipping an Almighty God through song and prayer with all that is in me is fun! Going to church is fun! Do you get what I’m saying here? Quite simply, I’ve never had more fun!

Undid

To be honest with you, I’m not sure if “undid” is actually a word in the English language. As it applies to my relationship with God, it’s the perfect word. You see, a few years ago, God undid me. By His goodness, He allowed me to strip away the layers of hurt and frustration that had been on my heart for years. He disassembled me…He let me disassemble myself. And then He helped me put myself back together. A-mazing. A-miracle.

Unbelievable

My God is unbelievable! He brings all of these Un-things into my life every day, without fail. He fills me. He lifts me. He sustains me. He consumes me.

He loves me. I know it.

Not because it’s in the Bible.

Because it’s in my heart.

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 02/10/2011 at 4:58 PM | Categories: Faith -

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