Viewing by month: July 2009
Earlier this week I was having coffee and conversation with my good friend Freddy Guerra. The coffee was at Starbucks (they think a lot of their coffee!) and the conversation was about God and life.
Actually, Freddy and I have only known each other for four months, though it seems much longer. We met at a men’s retreat in March hosted by The Church of The Highlands, where both of us are members. Freddy also attended a small group that my wife Jackie and I hosted in our home this summer…
There’s something magical about sharing our faith and our problems with people that inextricably draws us closer to one another, enriches our walk of faith, and makes the problems that we face in life seem smaller, less insurmountable. I don’t know, perhaps it is through sharing in a small group setting that we come to realize that everyone has problems, i.e. financial, health, relationships, etc. I think that we take comfort in the knowing that we’re not alone in having a cross to bear. No, it’s not the “misery loves company” thing. It’s funny how this works…in sharing our problems and exposing our weaknesses with a group of people doing the same, we actually grow stronger!
So Freddy and I met to continue the sharing that had begun in our small group meetings. At some point in our conversation, the subject turned to listening for God’s voice to get “directions” in life.
Okay, I’ve got to tell you that I’ve never heard God’s voice, in the sense of having a conversation with someone. For instance, quite often during prayer I audibly ask God for advice or help in a certain situation…He’s never given me an audible answer.
But that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t answer me at all. I believe that there are several different means in which God may “speak” to us, and we need to be aware of what they are. I’ll preface what I’m going to say by telling you that I ask God to give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the awareness to know when He does decide to speak to me!
The eyes to see…
Okay, the most obvious place to hear God speaking to us is through the Bible. There are messages from God and references to conversations with God throughout the Old Testament. Turn to the New Testament, and what do you find? God’s Word, and His teachings, spoken here on earth by His Son! If you don’t use your eyes to read the Bible, you’ll never see it. And if you never see it, you’ll never know it! There’ll be more on the Bible later in this post.
Quite often God will speak to us through events that may or may not involve us. We may find ourselves in a situation, the same situation, over and over again, until we get the message and do things differently. Or we may know someone that has been “called” to serve God in some type of ministry.
The ears to hear…
Many times God will put someone directly in our path to deliver a message from Him. The bearer of this message may be a pastor, spouse, friend, relative, or a song writer. Quite often, God will speak to us through a complete stranger! The important thing to remember is that we need to walk with the awareness that God may be speaking to us through someone else.
I’ve spoken quite frequently about the need for us to bold in our faith (most recently on July 20th) so I won’t go into particulars on this subject. There is one thought that bears mentioning though, because I forgot to do so in the original post, and because I just want to!
I will speak openly about my faith, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the fact that I am a Christian anytime and anywhere; all the time and everywhere. I don’t know how I got to be this way…at first I felt very awkward talking about those things to a stranger, but now I feel awkward if I don’t take advantage of every opportunity to do so…I guess that the Holy Spirit has taken hold of me, and you know what? I love it!
So anyway, when I seize the opportunity to share my faith with someone that I’ve just met, and this individual has the same passion for God that I do, it’s, well it’s like throwing gasoline on smoldering embers! I’ve been told on several occasions that the fires of the Holy Spirit are dancing in my eyes…I don’t know about that, because I can’t see my eyes, but I can tell you that I certainly feel His presence in me…I’m always humbled, grateful, and overwhelmed that God fills me with Him. It is my prayer that in sharing your faith with others, you too will come to know this feeling.
That little voice…
During last week’s service, Church of The Highlands Pastor Chris Hodges made a reference as the Bible being a guide for us in life. I need to add that Pastor Chris grew up in Louisiana, and like many of us Southerners, isn’t afraid to tell you exactly the way it is…in layman’s terms.
There was one thing that he said that I wish I had taken the time to make a note of, but unfortunately failed to do so. I can’t quote him verbatim, so I’ll give you the gist of what he said:
You need to make a decision about something in life or some guidance on what to do in a certain situation? Holding his Bible high above his head for all to see, he provided us an answer to his question…If you can’t find it in here, it isn’t right. This Bible defines everything about the way we should live.
You know what? Three months ago I would have disagreed with my Pastor’s statement. Today, I agree with him 100%. So what happened? God gave me the eyes to see the Word, and the ears to hear the message. Consequently, I turn to the Bible quite often for guidance. This is a good thing, right?
Yes, yes it is. But it also poses a problem for me, and I suspect that it may do the same for many of us. You see, I don’t know all the lessons and guidance that the Bible has for me. I just started reading the Bible a couple of years ago, and there’s just so much to learn. When someone starts reciting Chapter and Verse right off the top of their head, I can only sit there in amazement…and admiration.
But I’ve come to realize something else: many of us may not be able to cite a specific passage in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know the overall message of the Bible. The lessons that we learn from our parents, churches, family, mentors, and friends instill in us the “guidelines” for what is contained in the Bible: love, compassion, wisdom, right from wrong, etc.
Here’s what I’m getting at…there are times in our lives when we can’t wait for God to speak to us. We may be faced with a decision that must be made on the spot, or find ourselves in a situation that calls for immediate action. What do we do?
Say a quick prayer, asking God for the insight, and clarity to make the right decision in accordance with His will. And ask for discernment that you may know His word from that of Satan (who will get inside your head the moment you let your guard down.) Then be still and listen…
You know that little voice inside your head that talks to you all the time? (It’s okay; we all have one of those!) It’s called a conscience, and I believe that our conscience is God talking to us through us.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying “This is the way; walk in it.: Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)
You see, among the many gifts that God gives to us is the ability to make the right choice, to do the right thing. And He trusts us enough to give us the freedom to make that choice.
Are you walking with Christ everyday, trying to know Him, love Him, and serve Him more? Trust yourself; you’ll make the right choice.
See you next Monday.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 07/26/2009 at 10:59 PM | Categories:
Do you ever wonder why I’m always encouraging you to be bold in sharing the news of Christ with others? This has been the topic of many of my posts, and I’m sure that it will find its way into many future posts as well. So, why am I so insistent that we share our faith with others?
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Mark 16:15 NIV
There it is…right there in the Bible. After Christ had risen this was one of the final directives He gave the disciples before His ascension into the heavens. Do you believe that His words were only for the ears of those first disciples and not for us? You’re not really gonna answer “yes”, are you?
Okay, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t know that many people follow the bible to the letter; I must admit that I don’t. I’ve “confessed” that I didn’t start reading the Bible until a couple of years ago, and there is so much of it that I still don’t even know, so I can’t sit here and tell you that I base my life on its contents…but I’m working on it.
If the fact that Christ told us to go out and tell the world isn’t a good enough reason for you, then…
Share the good news of Christ with others for others.
I know the difference that having a relationship with Christ has made in my life, and I suspect that the same can be said for you. How can we not share who He is, what He is, and His goodness with others?
Share the good news of Christ with others for yourself.
You read it correctly; do it for yourself. I’m sure that you’ve heard the old saying “It is better to give than to receive.” Trust me on this one…there is no greater gift than introducing Christ into someone’s life.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, the gift is not theirs, but yours. They receive the grace and blessings of knowing Jesus. You receive the gift of Christ’s Spirit, which is a feeling that, for me, has yet to be matched by any material possession here on earth! And believe me, once you have walked being filled with His spirit, you will never want to be without it again!
Share the good news of Christ with others for our country…our world.
Let’s get real for a minute. Have you taken the time to check out, I mean really check out the world in which we live? I’m not a pessimist, but we are teetering on the edge of disaster. I’m asking you to look beyond the economy, inflation, the housing market, the jobless rate, and health insurance costs. While these problems are real, and touch many of us, they are not the kind of problems that has Satan dancing in the streets.
I’m talking about things like corruption in government, overthrowing sitting leaders of countries, governments turning a blind eye to famine and disease, and the atrocities of genocide. Too far away? Other people’s problems, you say? Glad it’s not US, as in U.S.?
Okay, how about murder, rape, child abuse, suicide, pornography, theft, and an ever-fading sense of morality in our country? Oh, and you can probably throw in just a touch of political dishonesty. Are you lookin’ now? At U.S.?
Here’s a question for you…
- Do you think that the problems facing our country and our world are in some way a result of our crumbling moral values? Or do you think that it’s a coincidence that everything seems to be going “to hell in a hand basket” all at the same time?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’re a Christian, or that you’re here seeking to know more about Him. I don’t know about you, but for me, walking that daily walk with Christ is accompanied by accountability for my every thought, word, and deed. Come to think of it, even when I wasn’t a “devoted” Christian, my knowledge of Christ and His teachings instilled a set of moral values in me that I couldn’t deny.
Which leads me to a series of questions…
- Do you think that now, more than ever, the world would be a much better place with more Christians in it? That more people need to know about Christ? And because of this, how can you not share the good news of Christ?
- Could you imagine your life without Christ in it? What if you had not been born into a Christian family, or had never been introduced to Him? Think about that one for a minute…how different would your life be?
Look, I’m not asking you to go out and save the world. I’m not even asking you to save your neighborhood! I am asking that you never pass up an opportunity to share your faith with someone. Anyone. Just one.
I know, I know…for some of us, speaking openly about God is a hard thing to do. We worry about others will think of us…and that’s understandable.
Here’s a suggestion: perhaps you should try sneaking God into the conversation! Oh, there’s a good way to do it…
The next time that someone inquires as to your well being, simply reply “I’m blessed.” If they question the source of your blessings…well, you’ll know what to tell them!
In the same way faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith: I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. James 2:17-18
See you next Monday!
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 07/19/2009 at 11:29 PM | Categories:
A couple of months ago, Jackie and I joined The Church of The Highlands, here in Birmingham. Highlands (for short) was the fastest growing church in the country in 2008. There is one main campus and three satellite churches, with membership totaling in the neighborhood of 12,000 people! Staggering numbers, I know. Your first thought, as was mine, may have been that with so many people, the sense of church community and fellowship would be almost nonexistent.
Nothing could be farther from the truth! You see, within those 12,000 people are over 800 small groups devoted to developing a deeper relationship in Christ through fellowship with, you guessed it, other Christians!
Never having participated in a church group, much less having hosted one, Jackie and I decided nonetheless to do exactly that this summer. Actually, it was my idea, and my dear wife graciously agreed to my notion of “diving right in” at Highlands.
For the summer session, the church was making it easy for us novices; each week’s topic for small group discussion would be based on that Sunday’s message. I figured, “How wrong could we go? The church sets the topic of the day. They give us a DVD for our group to watch along with a few suggested questions to spark conversation. Cue the DVD. Discuss it. Share ideas. What do we have to lose?”
On Tuesday, June 9th we sped home after work to prepare for our first small group meeting at 6:30. Though neither of us would admit it, Jackie and I were both a bit nervous. We were relatively new to the church, didn’t know that many people, didn’t know what we were doing, and didn’t know if anyone would show up!
That first night we there were eight of us, and it proved to be an amazing evening of sharing thoughts about friends, life, and of course, God. We’ve had three meetings since that first night, and attendance has ranged from a low of four to a high of ten. Small groups has been an unbelievable experience…
That first week’s focus was on friends, and the role that they can play in our lives. This topic really laid the groundwork for sharing in our small group, and by the end of our gathering an hour and a half later, I already felt a bond with every person in the room. I’d like to go into more detail about the evening, but I’ll save it for a later date. I want to move on to week two, which is actually the focus of this week’s post.
Week two was all about the need for us to be bold in our faith, as in sharing the news of God’s goodness and His Word with others. As you may have already guessed, this is one of my favorite topics!
There’s something that I offered to our group that night, and I want to do the same with you right now…
Sharing my faith and talking openly about God was really hard for me to do at first. I was afraid of what people would think of me, how they would react to me. I mean, how do you start a conversation about God with someone that you don’t know without sounding like a “Jesus Freak?” (Well, I am a freak for Jesus, but that’s beside the point!) I think that for some of us, even the idea of talking openly to a friend about Jesus wouldn’t be so easy to do.
I remember the first time that I shared my belief in God with someone; the first time that I gave “witness” to His goodness…
In January of 2005 Jackie and I joined a new health and wellness facility that had opened near our home. It was there that I met a young lady (I’ll call her Lauren) who was employed as a fitness counselor. Lauren was actually one of the first staff members that I met. Her outlook was always so positive and encouraging that she would make me forget about the pain I was in when I’d finished my workout! Oh, and did I mention that she always wore a smile that would light up any room? We became fast friends, and I always looked forward to seeing her two or three times a week.
Over the course of the next few months, I sensed that something was wrong with Lauren. That ever-present smile wasn’t always present, and she just didn’t exude that warmth that I had grown accustomed to.
One evening, at the risk of being too personal, I asked Lauren if she was okay, or if there was anything that I could help her with. Fighting back tears, she told me that she was going through a divorce, and she was really having a rough time. She wasn’t worried so much for herself as she was for the mental state of her two young sons. Having gone through a divorce when my sons were twelve and nine, I could identify with her concerns. As she was sharing her situation with me, confiding in me, my heart was breaking for her and I desperately searched for something, anything that would ease her mind.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no psychologist, counselor, or authority on handling personal problems. In fact, I remember feeling uneasy that day as she was confiding in me, looking to me for help…but not for the reasons that you might think. I was humbled that this young lady would turn to me for guidance, and I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t have anything beyond “I’m sorry.” to offer in return for her trust.
…the “inner me” was screaming…at me!
I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t have the guts to say it. Putting aside my conventional ways of thinking, I looked directly in Lauren’s eyes and asked, “Do you believe in God?” Her response was short and to the point: “Yes, why?”
For the next few minutes Lauren and I were engaged in a deep conversation about God. Well, I was doing the talking, and she was doing the listening. And I have to be truthful with you; for the first few minutes I told Lauren what I thought she needed to hear.
Ask God to help you, and He will… God will give you strength… He will take care of you and your boys…God is so good; He will help you get through all of this…His love for us is unending…He is the Ultimate Father
Then I began giving Lauren a condensed version of my adult life, recalling the highs and lows of the previous three decades. And as I recounted all of the rough spots, the tough times in my life, something amazing happened.
How can I best explain this to you?
I said that at first I told Lauren what she needed to hear…all those things about God. What I didn’t tell you was that I really didn’t feel what I said about God; I was conveying things to her that had been told to me by others, like my Dad and Mom. I don’t know that I really believed what I was saying…
As I shared some of my darker hours with Lauren, I began to realize that God had been right there with me through them all…holding me up, giving me strength, filling me with enough of Him to survive. He had been, for my entire life, all that I had described to Lauren, and more. And until that particular moment in time, I had never really known it…and I had never thanked Him. Later that night I was on my knees doing exactly that.
For the next several weeks I would check on Lauren’s progress whenever I saw her. We talked about God all the time. Lauren would go on to enroll for a class that would prepare her to join the Catholic Church, which she eventually did. The last time I saw Lauren she told me that she was working at one of the Catholic schools here in Birmingham, and was blissfully happy with her new life and her relationship with God. Her boys were doing “great.” And that smile? It was back, and more beautiful than ever!
All of this happened during the first six months of 2005.
Aw, come on…you should know by now that I don’t believe in coincidences!
In August of 2005, just a couple of months after I “got it” about God, and perhaps more importantly, spoke openly about His goodness, I awoke one morning determined to change the path of my life. (See A Seed Was Planted page) Fear had been replaced by courage, indecision had been replaced by confidence, and doubt had been replaced by faith.
God smiled on me. My life has never been the same.
Be BOLD in sharing all that God had done for you and what He has been for you. Don’t think that He’s been there with you? Take a closer look; you may be surprised at what you see.
See you next Monday.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 07/12/2009 at 9:35 PM | Categories:
< Previous Entries