The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: April 2011

Oppression

People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful. Job 35:9 NIV

Exactly what is oppression? Well, in the dictionary oppression is defined as:

1        a: unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power

          b: something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power

2        :  a sense of being weighed down in body or mind

Before I can continue, there’s something that I have on my heart to tell you. Actually, there are a couple of things.

I’ve come to realize that at times this blog seems to be nothing more than a journal. Well, in some ways, that’s exactly what it is. More than anything else, The Seed of Hope is a recounting of many events in my life (good and bad), self-discoveries, and epiphanies as they pertain to my walk with the Lord. It’s a recounting of my emotional roller coaster of dealing with life as God seeking, Holy Spirit filled, Jesus loving Christian. It’s a recounting, which in essence, is the definition of a journal.

That being said, I’ll remind you that I’ve never claimed to be a theologian, writer, teacher, philosopher, pastor, or counselor. I’m just a guy who shares what’s in his heart and on his mind because, well, because I believe that God wants me to, and that’s all the reason I need.

Oppression

If you’re reading this, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that you’re already a Christian, or that you’re not a Christian, that you’ve found this site and are trying to learn more about Jesus.

Either way, at some point in your life you’ve been the victim of oppression, and I’m not speaking anything over you, but you will be again in the future. In fact, you may be oppressed at this very moment. Open doors for oppression to enter our lives include anger, fear, doubt, rejection, addictions, and lust.

Now that I think about it, we’re in a constant state of oppression, to varying degrees, even when we’re not aware of it. Sometimes the oppression is so subtle that it’s barely noticed by us; but it’s there.

Our oppressor is Satan.

Yeah, I’m talking about that bad boy again. He’s relentless in his attacks. He never rests. He’s always looking for his next victim.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 NIV

JOY…

was the title of my last post. I closed by telling you that I was going to get on my knees and beg God to restore the joy that I found in my relationship with Him just over four years ago; a joy that I had taken for granted.

Well, once again God smiled on me, and filled me with that unparalleled joy that can only be found with Him!

So you may be thinking “If you found the joy that was missing, why are you writing about oppression?”

Good question. The answer lies in the fact that within days of finding that joy I was being pounded on yet again by the enemy…

On the road…

I had been invited by a good friend from church to attend a conference in Louisiana that was being held for Pastors, aspiring church planters, and ministry students. Yes, I was aware of the fact that I am none of the above, but I also believe that God opens doors for a reason.

Armed with my new found joy and my unwavering belief in a BIG GOD, who is capable of doing BIG THINGS, I accepted the invitation with the expectation that God had something at that conference that would rock my world. (He did, but I’m gonna save that for a later day!)

We were two hours into our drive from Birmingham to Baton Rouge when I received a text message from a member of our team at our hair salon. Her message was quite simple: Are u going to be here this week?

Simple enough, right? Yes, but I knew that what it really meant was “You hired a new person to work in the salon, and you didn’t tell anybody about it, and a lot of people are upset with you.”

Look, I’m not saying that the Satan was behind the message that I received. I’m not even gonna give him credit for the unrest that was the reason for the message. I am gonna say that, just like the lion, he was waiting for me to be rattled by the message.

But I was ready! I’d been anticipating something, some distraction that would take away from what God had planned for me at the conference. Immersing myself in prayer, I asked the Holy Spirit to cover the mind and heart of my wife Jackie, who was back in Birmingham in the midst of all the mess, and to take my mind off of the situation until I returned three days later. He did!

On the road

The drive back to Birmingham was filled with discussions about God, life, the impactful moments of the conference, and our take-away from it. The conversation was awesome, and I was grateful for the time spent with my friend, but in the back of my mind I was thinking about the situation back home, believing that everything was gonna work out. No way that my soaring spirit from the conference was gonna be dampened by what was waiting for me. Again, I was mentally prepared.

What I wasn’t prepared for was a text that I received from our son Christian, about an hour from home.

Taking Stephen to the hospital. Been throwing up since Monday…..

Bam! My guard was down, and Satan knew it. There was a small crack in the wall, a chink in the armor; just enough space for him to get in, to plant those seeds of doubt.

Early the next morning I had a meeting at the salon with the person that had sent me the message. Before she arrived, I quietly sat in our prayer room, asking that our meeting would be a good one. I was totally prepared to receive whatever she had to say without taking offense to any of it. Or so I thought.

Everything was going well until she informed me that some of our guys were questioning my walk as a Christian. I was dumbstruck. These people that I work with, and care about, and worry about questioned my walk as a Christian because I didn’t consult with them on a new hire? Really?

Want a recipe for inviting Satan to, not only oppress you, but pound on you?

Take a gallon bucket of concern for a sick grandson. Add a cup of anger, a cup of frustration, and a couple of cups of hurt, just for good measure.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 NIV

The next four days were a blur. Stephen was still in the hospital. Jackie and I were still hurting over what happened in the salon. At one point she and I actually turned on each other for a few hours, until I had enough sense to take her in my arms and pray for us. Nothing was right. Nothing felt right. Nothing helped. Not church, or listening to worship music, or even sitting in my prayer chair. Jackie was miserable as well, and I don’t know if was from her own hurt, or her concern for me.

Oppression

What’s that? Did I hear you questioning if you’ve been the victim of oppression from Satan?

Have you ever felt as if the weight of the world was on your shoulders, or as if you couldn’t draw enough air in your lungs, or as if you were trapped underwater, or as if you were bound by ropes, wondering all the while if you were ever gonna get through it and if you could survive until you did?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above, then you, my friend, have been among the oppressed. And you know that there is nothing pleasant about it.

When you find yourself in that place what do you do?

·         Pray. Pray diligently. Pray consistently. Pray from your heart, and not your mind.

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

·         Proclaim the victory over Satan that was won when Jesus was nailed to the                         cross, and in Jesus’ name, rebuke Satan and his demons from your life.

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luke 10:19

·         Believe in a BIG GOD. Never take your eyes off of Him, remaining steadfast in the storm, and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that He’ll supply you with all that you need to survive your time of trial.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27 NIV

Pray. Proclaim victory. Believe. Do these three things and the storm of oppression will come to an end. Oh, there’s one more thing: be patient.

God’s Timing

The storm will pass, and with it the reign of oppression. But it’ll be in God’s timing, and not yours. He will bring you back from captivity, but only when He’s ready…

Monday evening Jackie and I were having dinner with our two live-in ministry students, Brooke and Buddy. After the meal was blessed, I offered one more silent prayer to God, asking Him to let this be over. At some point, in the midst of dinner and conversation, I knew that it was over. Fighting back tears, I told Jackie and girls that “This family time is just what I needed. Thank you.”

The next morning I awoke thanking God, as I always do, for allowing me to live another day. I also thanked Him for, among other things, the peace that was in my heart. I spent a few extra minutes laying in bed next to my amazing wife, grateful for her love, her patience, and her unwavering support as I try to live out God’s plan for me, before getting out of bed and heading for my prayer chair.

Stephen went home that day. The joy was back. All was right with the world. This round of oppression was over. I’m sure it won’t be the last one, because I’ll never stop loving and serving the Lord.

But then, I know that He’ll never stop loving me.

 

 

  

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 04/15/2011 at 7:26 AM | Categories: Life - Faith -

JOY

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures in your right hand. Psalm 16:11 NIV

I’ve stated several times on this site, and God only knows how many times in conversations that, “When it comes to serving God, I want to do it all!”

Lofty ambitions? You bet, but when it comes to serving the Lord, aiming high is all that I know.

Impossible to achieve? Probably…

The original thought behind my last post, Be still and know that I am God was to announce a halt, at least temporarily, to The Seed of Hope. I realized that I had made commitments to too many things and too many people, and a dinner invitation was the catalyst for it!

A friend had sent me an e-mail inquiring what may be the best night for my wife Jackie and I to accompany him and his wife to dinner. In responding to his request, I began flipping through my “mental datebook.” Let’s see…

Monday nights are reserved as “family dinner” nights for me, Jackie, and our two live-in ministry students, Brooke and Adrianna. We don’t mess with those. On Tuesday nights I co-lead a Bible study/fellowship men’s group for the first year ministry students at church. Wednesday night is church night. Thursday mornings begin with an hour long men’s group meeting in our salon at 6:30, and end that evening when Jackie and I leave the salon, hopefully no later 7:00 or 7:30. Friday evening marks the end of the work week, which gives me the weekend to be a husband, father, grandfather, and son, the latter three of which I’m failing miserably. Sundays are for church; always attending, sometimes serving.

Within the last two weeks I’d been given the opportunity to lead yet another group for men, to lead a mentoring program for young men attending a high school here in Birmingham, and to co-lead a Spa Night for mothers of critically ill children at Children’s Hospital with Jackie.

Mixed in with all of this is attempting to run a business, writing The Seed of Hope, and having an open door policy for anyone needing counsel, friendship, or prayer in the prayer room in our salon.

And somewhere in my schedule I have to find time to spend with the Lord, just me and Him. It’s not an option. It’s my daily bread.

Complaining?

I know it sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not really. I asked God for all of this, for Him to open doors for me to reach people. I just didn’t know that He’d answer in such a big way.

Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the fact that I’m only human. And I lost something even more valuable that I’ll get to in a minute.

God’s way of reminding me of my human frailty was to stop me dead in my tracks with an unbelievably painful attack of Achilles Tendonitis.

Do you know the story of Achilles? He was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, and he was the central character in Homer’s Iliad. Achilles was a mighty warrior, a tough guy, a “bad boy” in today’s terminology. Legend has it that Achilles was for the most part invincible, except for a weakness that he had in his heel. The story goes that Achilles was shot in the heel by a poison arrow, which ultimately leads to his death.

For that reason, and to this day, the term “Achilles’ heel” has been used in defining an individual’s primary weakness. That being said, after my third flare-up of tendonitis in two months, I began to wonder if God was trying to tell me that I was overlooking a weakness; a flaw in my character, in my walk, in dealing with people, or in my spirituality.

Some of you may be shaking your heads at the notion of God giving me foot problems to get my attention. That’s all well and good; believe what you want. You can ring it up to coincidence that this last attack of tendonitis was so severe that, with the exception of going to church, I did absolutely nothing for five days but sit and reflect on me, my life, and God. Call it coincidence that when I was still because I had to be, and used that time for inner reflection, I realized a couple of things.

I can’t do it all.

In My Five, the last post of 2010, I suggested that you pick the five things that were closest to your heart, that were the most important to you, and devote your time and attention to working on those five before you did anything else. Ascribing to the adage that I should “practice what I preach”, I went about the business of making my own top five list.

Number one on my list, which I shared with you, was “To love and serve the Lord with all that is in me every day.” Today, some three months later, loving and serving the Lord is still on the top of my list. The problem arose in the fact that I tried to cram so many things, like writing The Seed of Hope, leading small groups, mentoring, counseling, praying with people and whatever else was on my heart into this one item.

It was a recipe for disaster. Oh, I still loved getting “plugged-in” with people, and going to church. And as always, if there was anything that I could do, in thought, word, or deed, to lead someone to the Lord, or to make their walk in life a bit better, I was the one that was blessed for it. But the joy that should have come with those blessings mysteriously vanished. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, serving God and others became, not a blessing, but a burden.

The joy was gone, and in its place was frustration. I became dissatisfied with our business, with my ministry, with our church, with everything. I was aware of the fact that I was frustrated, and I unsuccessfully tried to pray my way through it, which only served to make me even more frustrated. I reminded myself of a dog chasing its tail; running myself ragged, and getting absolutely nowhere. This went on for weeks.

Then I did something that seems to be so hard for men to do: I reached out for help. I called on my good friend Rusty, who I knew would listen to what was on my heart without judging me for it. I also knew that he would tell me, not necessarily what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear; which is exactly what he did. That, among other things, is what makes him a good friend.

My meeting with Rusty led to a meeting with one of his best friends, Keith, who also happens to be one of the Pastors at our church. (Can you see God working through all of this?) Keith, like Rusty, listened to what I had to say, and then, in no uncertain terms, told me what I needed to hear. He shot straight from the hip, and I walked away from our hour long conversation with my “wheels spinning” and my mind digging even deeper for the answer, Keith’s words echoing in my mind.

JOY

It came to me at four o’clock this morning. I sat up in bed with tears in my eyes and a huge hurt in my heart. What had been missing was JOY. Not the joy that comes from serving others or the joy that comes from writing, or mentoring, or even praying. What was missing was the unparalleled joy that comes from being with God, from being filled by the Holy Spirit, and from walking with Jesus every day.

The first time I felt that joy was when I was born again four and a half years ago. It was by God’s grace that I received it, that I had felt it, and that I got to walk with it in my heart every day. It was a gift; a gift that I had taken for granted. It was a gift that I had assumed would always be there.

You see, that joy was the wellspring of all that came after it; The Seed of Hope, the desire to serve God, this ministry that God has blessed me with, and the prayer room in our salon in which I’m sitting at this very moment. All of it was born of the joy that I found when I truly found God.

And now it’s gone. Oh, there are still some remnants of that joy that I was filled with until a few weeks ago, but it’s nothing like it was. When I finish this post I’m gonna get on my knees and ask God, beg God, to let me walk with that joy in my heart again.

You see, without His joy, I am nothing.

 

 

 

  

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 04/01/2011 at 6:46 AM | Categories: Life - Faith -

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