The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: June 2011

Calling you out!

A bit of research revealed that calling out, in essence, is the act of pointing an accusatory finger at an individual and saying something bad about them.

In this instance, I have nothing bad to say about you or anyone else. I am pointing a finger in what I’m going to say, and if you feel that it’s pointed at you, then I dare you to do something about it. You read it right: I dare you to do something about it.

You see, I want to do more than simply get your attention, or stir your curiosity, or entice you to read this because I wrote it. This is not about your attention, your curiosity, or my endeavors. This is about you and your journey, and above all else, I want you to get it, because when you do, you’re just not gonna be the same.

What is it that I so desperately want you to get?

It is the rock upon which I stand. It is the basis of my faith in God. It is what allows me to stand firm in the storms, and to walk without fear in my heart when things seem to be at their very worst.

It’s not about whether or not I believe in God, or in the Holy Spirit, or that Jesus is the Risen King, the Savior of the world. To be sure, and just so there’s no room for doubt, I believe in all of the above with all that is in me.

This is about the depth of my belief in God, and I offer you the one verse in the Bible that sums it up best for me:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

All things.

Notice that Jesus didn’t say a “few things”, or “several things”, or “many things”. Jesus didn’t put any limitations on his Father or His abilities. Imagine him looking at you in the eyes and without the slightest notion of doubt, saying “Look, our Father can do anything! Anything! Don’t you get it? There’s nothing that he can’t do. Nothing.

Why do we have such a hard time wrapping our minds around what Jesus told us? Why can we so easily accept his teachings on life, love, giving, forgiveness, and salvation, yet not accept the fact that his Father, who is our Father, can do all things?

Okay, you know that I wouldn’t have posed those questions to you if I didn’t have an answer for them. Actually, I have a few answers, and I’ll be honest in telling you that while they may not be the answers, they’re what God put on my heart.

·         The word Father. It’s not so much the word as it is the thought process and confusion that goes with it. As children, we look to our earthly fathers as being our heroes. They can do no wrong. In our eyes, minds, and hearts, they “hung the moon.” Unfortunately, at some point all of us come to realize that our earthly fathers, even the very best of them, aren’t perfect. As mortal men, they come equipped with limitations and flaws. When we’re hit with the reality, I believe that a smart part of us dies inside, along with a sliver of hope that comes with it.

Our heavenly Father, on the other hand is perfection. He has no flaws, no weaknesses, and no shortcomings. He’s always with us, even when we don’t feel his presence. His forgiveness knows no bounds, and His love is everlasting.

·         Satan doesn’t want you to believe that with God all things are possible. You see, the absolute belief that God can do anything filling our minds and hearts leaves no room for fear, doubt, and worry, just a few of the weapons that Satan has in his arsenal to use against us.

·         Our hearts. We’re afraid of putting too much faith in God and then being disappointed if things don’t work out the way that we want them to.  Throughout our lives, we’ve been let down because of the unmet expectations that we put in others, and we’ve felt the hurt that accompanied the resulting disappointments. In our minds, because He is God, we feel that the disappointment would be too great to bear. And curiously enough, we believe that He is our last bastion of hope.

·         Our minds. Because of our own limitations, weaknesses, fears, and frailties, we have a hard time freeing our minds enough to believe that anyone, even God, has none. NONE. He doesn’t.

With God, all things are possible.  

That’s not just from Scripture. It’s from my heart, and there is no doubt in my mind that it’s absolutely true. NONE.

So how do we get you there, if you’re not?

May I offer you a couple of suggestions?

The first is an affirmation, which is a brief verbal statement about an experience that we’re trying to have, or a goal that we’re trying to reach. When we say an affirmation, and especially when we say it out loud, it works its way into our subconscious and becomes reality. Why out loud? For some reason, when we actually hear words of affirmation come out of our mouths, we’re more prone to believe them. And the more we say them, the more we believe them.

Would you be willing to try this? If you haven’t figured it out, I’ve already given you the affirmation.

With God, all things are possible.

Every day, for the next several weeks, I’d like for you to repeat this affirmation as often as possible. Say it out loud, and say it like you mean it. If you’re at work or in a public place and can’t say it out loud, shout it out in your mind. I want you to own it. Make it a part of you, an extension of who you are.

Here’s the thing. In the beginning, it doesn’t matter if you really believe it or not. I mean, if you’ve never believed that with God all things are possible, you’re surely not gonna believe it just because you’ve said it a couple of times. It takes time, and it takes patience, and it takes you loosening up your mind enough to entertain the notion that it’s true. It’ll come, and when it does, your walk is gonna get so much easier. You see, believing that God can do anything gives birth to hope in every situation. 

Oh, and there’s one other thing that I’m going to recommend that you do each morning: PRAY.

I’d like to offer this prayer to you. It’s an outpouring of my heart. If you’ll say this prayer, or perhaps one using your own thoughts each day, I believe that God will stir in you like never before. What’s most important is that you ask to believe.

Lord God, I humbly stand before You in prayer. I need to believe that with You all things are possible, and I need Your help to do it. I ask, Father, that You remove any bandages from my eyes that prevent me from seeing you as You truly are. I pray that You give me the courage to completely open my heart to You, allowing me to love You and to receive Your love in a way that I’ve never done before. I ask, Father God, that You open my mind to believe that there is nothing too big for You; no illness, no challenge, no problem, and no dream.

I ask this is Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 06/28/2011 at 9:08 AM | Categories: Life - Faith -

...being a Disciple.

Okay, I’m gonna share a couple of things with you that I learned as I was preparing to write this post. Since I was a child I’ve heard about apostles and disciples. I always associated both with Jesus’ “inner circle”, as in the twelve that he hand-picked to serve him. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why you would need two different terms to describe the same people. Was there a difference?   

To begin with, just what is an apostle? The term apostle comes from the Greek word apostollos, which means “one sent forth.” Quite simply put, and as it applies to faith, an apostle was someone appointed by Jesus to spread and teach the gospel.

When morning came, he called his disciples to him, and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Luke 6:13 NIV

Here’s a bit of apostle trivia: There were actually fourteen men that were appointed to be apostles. Matthias was chosen to be an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot, and Paul was appointed by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

What’s a disciple? The term disciple has its origins in the Greek word mathetes, which means a “learner or pupil.” Loosely defined, a disciple is one who subscribes to a certain belief or doctrine. In today’s society, and especially as it applies to this post, the term disciple is used to describe a follower of Christ. I feel that it’s worth mentioning here that in a military analogy, a disciple is a “foot soldier.” Disciples aren’t appointed; they enlist. They choose to be soldiers. (I’ll explain the significance of this as it pertains to me in a bit.)

So Jesus’ twelve were actually both disciples and apostles, in that order. Initially, they chose to be followers of Christ while he was here. After his death and resurrection, they were sent forth to spread and teach the message of Jesus.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

Oregon

A few years ago I flew out to Portland, Oregon to attend a three day spiritual retreat that I’d heard about from a friend. This came not long after my spiritual awakening, and I’ll be honest with you in saying that my life had undergone such a change that I was reeling from the experience. Going through a complete transformation of who I was, what I was, what I did, and most importantly discovering a new relationship with God, had shifted my world slightly off of its axis. I wasn’t afraid as much as I was, quite simply, confused.

Be that as it may, the main reason for attending the retreat was that I was hungry for more of God. I was going to church every Sunday, spending time in The Word every morning, praying, and sharing my heart for God with anyone who’d listen.

But that wasn’t enough! Something was missing; something that I was supposed to know that would give me some clarity and some peace. For whatever reason, I believed that I’d find that something in Oregon.

I came away from the retreat with a few revelations, but the first one, and perhaps the most important one, occurred on the second day I was there…

What I saw…

Having arrived at the retreat center the previous afternoon, and absolutely filled with anticipation, I rolled out of bed at 5:00 A.M. and headed for the chapel and small fellowship hall. Upon entering the still dark hall, I quickly realized that I was the first to arrive.

Off to the left of the room, twenty-five or so chairs had been arranged in a circle facing one another. In the center of the circle was a small table upon which sat a single white candle that was burning. Softly playing in the background was a recording of monks chanting to music, which is something that I’d heard when visiting a monastery many years ago as a child.   

I was immediately drawn to one of the chairs. Taking a seat, I closed my eyes and began praying, and as is so often the case, my prayers eventually gave way to a deep state of concentration, or meditation.

At some point during this meditation I saw myself walking alongside a man in a forest. The forest wasn’t overgrown to the point that walking through it was a challenge. In fact, the floor was blanketed with pine needles, so much so that there was no vegetation other than the trees through which we were walking.

As we were rounding a huge boulder that was in the middle of this forest, I became aware of the fact that the man I was walking with was Jesus. We were walking side by side, in step with one another, and we were dressed in long, flowing robes. I never saw his face, but I didn’t have to; I knew it was him. I don’t know how long we had been together. It seemed as if it was only a matter of seconds, but it was long enough for me to hear him say one thing: “You’re on the right path. Go and do this.”   

When I opened my eyes, which were full of tears, I immediately knew what I had flown to Oregon to discover:

I am a disciple of Jesus. I choose to be a follower, and I go out and spread the news of him and his teachings. I don’t quote scripture that often, not only because I don’t know the Bible from front to back, but because I walk it out every day. I once read something that said Your life may be the only Bible a person ever reads. How true. I was not appointed and sent out. I volunteered.

Since then…

I told Jackie about my experience as soon as I returned to Birmingham. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve only shared it with a handful of people. I mean, you can’t just walk up to a group of people and say “Hey, I was walkin’ with Jesus in Oregon a couple of years ago!” But then again, I guess that’s what I’m doing right now, isn’t it? J

One of the people that I did share my experience with was a minister here in Birmingham. As I recounted my experience to her, she sat up straight in her chair and her eyes grew wide with excitement as she proclaimed, “Oh my! You were walking with Jesus dressed in white robes! That’s a sign of purity, and an anointing, and”

Wait!” I countered, attempting to cut her off mid-sentence. “Wait!” I said again, this time a little more forcefully, as she continued rattling off her list of what my white robe signified. As she abruptly stopped talking and shot me a puzzled look, I continued. “I’m sorry, but I never said that I was wearing a white robe. It was red. And it wasn’t vibrant in color, but on the contrary, a bit faded, and very ordinary.”

“Oh, I see” she replied as she settled back down in her chair, looking as if I’d just let the air out of her balloon.

Sensing her disappointment, and reaching for something, anything, to make her feel better, I continued, “But couldn’t an ordinary, faded, red robe signify that the most common of men are worthy of being Disciples of Christ?”

The smile returned with a look of enlightenment as she replied, “Well, yes. Yes it could mean that every man, any man, is worthy of being a disciple!”

How about you?

Are you a follower of Christ? Do you feel as if you could do more for, or should do more to tell people about Jesus, but don’t because you don’t feel that you’re worthy enough, or smart enough, or special enough, or because of what people may think of you?

I challenge you to do something about it, to get beyond yourself and the self-imposed limitations that you’ve taken on because of the reasons that I just mentioned. I challenge you to step up and be, not just a follower of Christ, but one of his disciples. Step up to the challenge of making disciples of all nations, and begin with the next person that you encounter. I promise you that you won’t regret it.

One final thought…

I recall the day in August of 2006 when I had a tattoo of a self-designed cross put on my shoulder. Later that evening, I didn’t declare myself to be a follower, or warrior, or messenger of Christ. I vowed to be a soldier of Christ, to do his bidding, and to share his message with any that would listen. Perhaps that was the day that I became one of his disciples.   

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 06/21/2011 at 6:01 PM | Categories: Faith -

...just for the asking.

What if I told you that love, patience, self-control, wisdom, and knowledge were not only available, but easily attainable for you, just for the asking?

Seriously, all you have to do is ask. It’s not a gimmick, or something taken from one of the hundreds of self-improvement books that line the shelves of bookstores or offered on the Internet.

The key is found in one book; the world’s best-selling book of all time. One book…the book of all books. The Bible.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by the means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 NIV

As is often the case, I want to tell you a story; a God Story. And as per usual, it’s one of my stories, based on first-hand experience. This story is about “religion”, fear, shame, divorce, marriage, and the Holy Spirit…

The fall of 1989

I was thirty-seven years old, the father of two sons from a previous marriage that ended in divorce, and six months into being married to my second (and current) wife, Jackie. I was excited about our future and grateful for her presence in my life. I felt as if I’d been given a second chance at love and happiness.

Curiously enough, in the midst of this happiness, I felt alone. God was missing. Oh we were still going to church most every Sunday, but it certainly wasn’t the church that I used to attend. In fact, it wasn’t even the same denomination of church; there was just too much shame and guilt on my heart from my divorce to do that.  Still, I felt estranged from God. Why?

Looking back on it now, I realize that there were two factors pulling me in opposite directions.

·         Because of the church that I was raised in, I was ashamed for having gotten a divorce, regardless of the circumstances. In my heart, I didn’t feel as if I was worthy of being in “God’s House.”

·         Because of what was instilled in me (obligation and fear, but curiously not love for God) in that same church, I wouldn’t let myself not attend church. I was gonna be in church, even if it was different than the one I was accustomed to.

Consequently, I began to seek God, not in church on Sundays, but in the privacy of our home or in my office every day. Sometimes, seeking God came in the form of prayer.  At other times, I would spend several minutes, and sometimes hours in deep reflection and meditation.

Wow…

One morning I was in the office in our salon. The door was closed, the lights were off, and I was just sitting there thinking about the state of my life and my relationship with God. I was also reflecting on a book that a friend had given me about improving my mental state of being. One chapter in the book described an exercise in which you think of good things while inhaling through your nose. After holding your breath for a few seconds you slowly exhale through your mouth, while simultaneously dispelling any negative thoughts and emotions from your mind. It was in essence an “in with the good, and out with the bad” kind of thing.

Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, what I’d read in the book worked its way into my prayers and meditation. As I prayed I began inhaling those things that were most absent in my mind: peace, strength, wisdom, and clarity. Conversely, I exhaled chaos, weakness, ignorance, and indecision.

The results were impactful and almost immediate! I was being filled with everything that I was seeking. I couldn’t wait to find a window of time during the day, regardless of how small it was, to sit in the dark and breathe in the goodness. It was changing who I was, what I was, and the manner in which I approached life. Curiously enough, I never shared what was going on with anyone; not even Jackie. I didn’t know why I chose not to, but I just didn’t.

This went on for weeks. I was growing stronger and more confident. To borrow a popular phrase from the younger people in my church, “I had my swag on!” What was going on in me was, well, it was beyond my comprehension. I had a hard time believing that it was as simple as breathing in and out.

And then I stopped…

I didn’t do the breathing exercise any more. I just went back to praying. And I lost my swag. Oh, I wanted to sit in that dark room and close my eyes and breathe in all that good stuff, but I didn’t, because I was ridden with guilt and fear.

You see, at the time I didn’t realize that what I was doing was asking for and receiving the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. Oh, I had been taught about the Holy Spirit in the fourth or fifth grade, and I’d actually been a participant in a religious ritual that would allow me to receive Him. (See The Gift of The Holy Spirit 4/19/2009) But as that young boy, I didn’t feel as though I had received anything , because, I don’t know, because my mind wasn’t open enough, or because it just wasn’t my time. Perhaps it was part of God’s plan for me to receive the Holy Spirit as an adult, not as a child.

Fast forward twenty-eight years to a thirty-seven year old man, stumbling upon the Holy Spirit and being filled with His gifts, only to turn and run out of misplaced fear. I didn’t know that it was the Holy Spirit; didn’t know that He was that strong, that His mere presence could change a man. To make matters worse, I didn’t know that His presence is always there, just for the asking.

Fast forward yet another twenty years, when in March of 2009, at a men’s retreat, I said a prayer asking to receive the Holy Spirit. I invited Him in, and just as a young boy when I had said a prayer, I didn’t feel anything immediately. That was then, but…

this is now.

Today, just like that period of time when I was thirty-seven, I find that quiet place and perform that breathing exercise. This time, I know that it’s the Holy Spirit. This time, I’m not afraid. This time, I not only invite Him in, but turn Him loose to work in and through me to serve the kingdom; God’s Kingdom. You know what? He always shows up. Always.

Try it.

If you’re not seeking the Holy Spirit daily, would you do me a favor? For the next twenty-one days would you please try it? Clear your mind of any preconceived notions or fears that you may have because of what you’ve been told or what you may have learned in church. Lose any negative conclusions that you’ve come to on your own. Think about it this way: If you believe in the Trinity, as in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, then what you’re actually doing is inviting GOD in. Get it? Don’t be afraid.

For starters, take another look at Galatians 5:22-23 at the top of this post. The fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You gonna tell me that you don’t need an extra dose of all of the above? Really?

Some of you may have a hard time wrapping your minds around the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as written in 1 Corinthians, and that’s okay. Really. Again, all I’m asking you to do is invite Him in.

Breathe in the Holy Spirit and all that He has to offer you…love, joy, peace, etc. As you inhale, believe that you’re being filled by them. Then exhale slowly, mentally releasing the opposite of those fruits.

Twenty-one straight days. Without fail. You’ll be amazed by His presence and by the way that you feel because of it. And you’ll shake your head in disbelief as you realize that He was there all along and available to you, and that a new way of life was there for you, just for the asking.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 06/14/2011 at 7:11 AM | Categories: Faith -

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