Viewing by month: August 2011
Surely there have been days when you’ve questioned what you possibly could have done that warranted the hand that you’ve been dealt in life. You flip through your “mental Rolodex” searching for the thought, word, or deed that caused this! What seed did you sow that resulted in the crop that you’re reaping? What if, after truly searching even the darkest corners of your mind, you come to the conclusion that you’ve done nothing?
Such was the case with Job. In Job 31, he recounted all the ways in which he had chosen to live his life, according to what he believed to be pleasing in God’s eyes. As you read Job’s self-examination, you realize that he had patterned his life on the teachings of Jesus, long before Jesus walked the face of this earth! Remarkable! This man truly had the Mind of Christ, or as close as mortal man could come to it.
When Job lost everything that he had (not as a result of anything wrong that he’d done, but because he was a righteous man), Job challenged not only his friends, but any man to find an offense against God and man that he had committed. He proclaimed that if he was indeed guilty, he would gladly accepted any and all consequences for his actions.
The sad truth is that the adage You reap what you sow doesn’t always stand up to reality, does it?
It’s evidenced throughout the world today, and we don’t have to look hard or far, to see it. Foreclosures, bankruptcy, and unemployment are at an all time high. Turn on the television and check out the world news, if you dare. Innocent children are starving to death. You don’t really believe that all of these people sowed a bad seed, do you?
Okay, perhaps those examples are a bit extreme. What if you had a really bad day, which turns into a week, which turns into a month, and seems to have no end in sight? How do you react to your situation?
Do you get defensive? Do you withdraw into your own little world? Do you wallow in self pity? Do you get angry with the world? Do you get mad at God? Do you, as did Job, make a case for yourself to God, believing that what you’re going through just isn’t fair?
Or do you turn to God, not to complain, but to seek the real comfort and strength that’s only available through His Spirit?
Perhaps we should draw courage from God’s assurance that “...I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
You see, God wants us to put our faith in Him, to trust in Him, and to look to Him for everything we need, even in those darkest of hours that we don’t think we deserve. As with Job, sometimes what we’re dealing with has nothing to do with what we’ve done right or wrong.
Perhaps you find yourself in that very situation today. For reasons that only God knows, you’re faced with an obstacle that you cannot get over, around, or under without Him. Perhaps, like Job, you’re on the verge of losing everything that you have, and you just don’t know why.
The big question then becomes not what you have or haven’t done, or if you can make a case for yourself, or why it had to happen to you, but if you’re gonna cast all your cares on God to get you through it. Even in those darkest of hours.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 08/29/2011 at 11:02 AM | Categories:
Several weeks ago I was asked to join a team that was writing a Daily Devotional for the newly formed Highlands College, a School of Ministry located at Church of The Highlands, here in Birmingham. I was so excited that my initial reaction was to attempt a back flip while giving a high-five to Pastor Keith, who had recruited me to be a part of the team! Better yet, I was humbled by the invitation, and honored to be given the opportunity to write about the Bible for our church. Of course I’d be willing to contribute my thoughts to a Devotional. Why wouldn’t I?
My excitement quickly turned to doubt as reality set in. Look, I just began reading the Bible four years ago. There are passages in the Old Testament that I’d never even read; how could I possibly write about them? The same question could be posed for many parts of the New Testament that I’d read but really didn’t understand. I was overwhelmed by the mere prospect of being on a timetable to submit two devotionals per week for the next few months.
After much consideration, I made the decision to withdraw my name, based on the determination that I just had too much on my plate. Of course, I knew the real reason: I was afraid that my interpretation of Scripture wouldn’t measure up. That fear was something that had followed me from elementary school, when I had totally misinterpreted the meaning of a passage that I had been assigned to study. Quite obviously, it was a memory that I hadn’t forgotten…
I changed my mind.
Then I made the decision not to withdraw my name. You see, I believe that God opened this door for me to be a part of this writing team because I need to learn the Bible. I’ve recognized the fact for some time now that my lack of Scripture knowledge, of not knowing God’s Word, is a liability for me in many ways. Thing is, I didn’t really know what to do about it. I almost enrolled in a part-time ministry program at church, but I didn’t think that it was a really good fit for me, or vice versa. I’d even considered on-line classes through an accredited university, but I never really felt the urge to act on it.
To make matters worse, I was recently reading Sun Stand Still, a book written by Steven Furtick, the Pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina. In his book, Pastor Furtick states in no uncertain terms that you can’t truly live by audacious faith or consider growing a ministry without not only knowing the Bible, but speaking it! It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t have God’s word in my mouth if I didn’t have it in my mind and in my heart.
That being said, I decided that I was gonna be a part of that writing team, and I was gonna learn Scripture, and as with everything that I do, I was gonna seek God’s help in doing it.
Last Sunday marked the beginning of a three week period of a morning prayer service at Highlands, which is fittingly and simply called Twenty-One Days of Prayer. I always look forward to this time of personal and corporate prayer; in some ways it feels as if the heat of the summer has dried me up spiritually! Actually, it’s probably vacations, time at our lake house, and the lack of a set schedule in the summertime that disrupts my time for prayer and worship in the morning. To be quite honest, I lose the discipline to go after God each day with all that’s in me.
By the time that Thursday rolled around I was back in the groove, rolling out of bed at 5:15, grabbing a cup of coffee, making it to church by 6:00, and gettin’ my prayer on. I love praying with a few hundred hungry-for-Jesus Christians in the morning!
While in prayer that morning, I was reflecting on the two devotionals that I’d already submitted to Pastor Keith, and on the one that I was going to write later that day. I could choose to write about a passage from Isaiah, Corinthians, Psalms, or Proverbs. I’d read each of the four, and share my thoughts about whatever jumped out at me.
The truth is that there are some days when I read Scripture and nothing jumps out at me! And that would definitely pose a problem. You see, when I write for The Seed of Hope, I get to pick the topic, which is usually the thing that’s weighing on my heart that day. The notion of being assigned something to write about was totally different for me, and it was planting seeds of doubt in my mind.
I offered a prayer…
Lord, when I read Your Word today, let me see something that I’ve never seen before. Let me see it with a new set of eyes. Give me a revelation. Let it be impactful for me, and for those that I may share it with.
When the service was over, I headed back home to have coffee with my wife Jackie, and to read that day’s suggested passages from the One Year Bible with her. Actually, Jackie doesn’t like to read early in the morning, so I read the Bible out loud for both of us. It’s a blessing for me to do it.
As soon as I turned to 1 Corinthians 7 I felt that old, familiar sting. Chapter 7 is a letter from Paul to the Corinthians about marriage. And divorce. And it has always been one of my least favorite passages from the Bible.
Jackie is my second wife, and I’m her second husband. We’ve been married for twenty-two years. Yes, I truly believe that God has forgiven both of us for divorcing our respective spouses. And I believe that God’s blessings and favor are on our marriage, or we wouldn’t be doing the things in our business, in our home, and in our church that we do for Him. I am truly blessed, and grateful that God saw fit to use me to serve His Kingdom, in spite of who I was.
Still, every time that I’ve read Paul’s thoughts on divorce, and the mark it leaves on children, and the condemnation that comes with it, I’ve felt the sting of the barb that’s apparently still lodged in my skin. And every time that I’ve read it aloud, I’ve wondered if my sweet wife was feeling the same thing. Of course, I didn’t have the courage to ask her. I didn’t want her to know that it bothered me, and I didn’t want to know if it bothered her.
Fighting the urge to close the Book, and pressing on, I read something that I’d read several times before. But for the first time my eyes saw something that I’d never seen before…
17Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. 20Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
Oooohh! I see it now….
Jackie and I had been married for seventeen years when I was born again, and it was another year and a half before God laid this ministry on my heart. I’m firmly planted right where I was when God called me to serve Him. And that’s where I’ll remain.
Look, I’m not trying to make a case for myself to you, because I’ll be judged only by God. The point I’m trying to make here is that while the pain of the divorce itself will never go away, that barb of shame that pricked my flesh every time that I read 1 Corinthians 7 is gone. For good.
God forgave me a long time ago for my divorce. I had to find forgiveness for myself, and I found it in what I thought would be the least likely of places: The Bible.
Sometimes, you just have to ask God to restore your sight.
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 08/16/2011 at 10:25 AM | Categories:
I’ve spent a lot of my quiet time during the last couple of weeks reflecting on the past. Well, that statement may be a broad stroke of the brush. More specifically, I’ve been reflecting about the last year or so and how a big desire of my heart has changed during that period. Funny, how God works…
Not long after my spiritual awakening in 2006, I was afforded the opportunity of giving presentations for Redken (the hair care manufacturer) at various venues around the country. At some point during each of these presentations, I would matter-of-factly give the lion’s share of our salon’s amazing success to God. It was after I’d spoken to a group of people in Chicago that I realized that it was of greater importance to me to speak humbly about God and what He’d done in my life than to speak proudly about our salon and its accomplishments. Speaking openly about God in a business arena made me feel, I don’t know, empowered, for lack of a better word.
I would always return to Birmingham and our salon flushed with enthusiasm. Our business, Salon M², became my personal platform for speaking to people about God. I’d speak to anyone who’d listen; customers, vendors, and even the guys that cleaned the windows! Speaking to them would, for a brief time, fill my insatiable desire to tell people about my God. It would also fill the voids between the times that I’d get to speak for Redken. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I was making a difference in the world.
The invitations to speak became fewer and farther in between, and eventually stopped coming at all, either as a result of the economy, or because of my insistence on sharing my faith with others. I was crushed. There was so much about God that I wanted to share. I couldn’t figure out why God wouldn’t just make those people ask me to speak!
I began hounding God…
Yep, that’s what I said. Every morning I’d get in my prayer chair and at some point during prayer and meditation, the topic of speaking to people would come up. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll let you know that I’m not timid when it comes to sharing what’s on my heart. Not even with God.)
God, are you listening to me? What am I missing? I’m wanting to go out and do this for You! I want to share what You’ve done in me and with me to people everywhere, not just in this city, or state, or country. I want to take this around the world. Come on!
This went on for weeks…months. I knew that I was probably aggravating God (I didn’t know then that we must be persistent and consistent in our petitions), but I didn’t care. Apparently it was His idea to put this fire in me, so He was gonna have to listen.
It was during one of those early morning rants that God gave me the idea to launch The Seed of Hope, which I did indeed do in 2008, with the help of Jason, a guy that had worked on our salon website.
The Seed of Hope immediately became, and I pray will continue to be, a way of sharing what God puts on my heart. It was a platform upon which I could stand and shout praises to God! I didn’t have to wait for an invitation to speak, and I could be as BOLD as I wanted to be in sharing my thoughts and my love for the Lord.
I love to write, but I’ll be honest in telling you that my love was born from the inability to speak, which I love even more.
I’ll also confess that while I loved to talk to people, I wasn’t a very good listener. Most times, my conversations with someone consisted of either me doing the talking, or planning on what I was going to say as soon as they stopped talking. I was so busy concentrating on myself that I rarely heard what was on a person’s heart. How could what they had to say possibly be as important as what I was telling them?
…funny how God works.
During a conversation with my wife Jackie one morning in the spring of 2010, God laid it on my heart to put a small, quiet room in our salon, which we did indeed do, a couple of months later.
I figured early on that the room would serve as a place for me to write, and to conduct monthly mentoring sessions with our team in the salon. In other words, it would be a place for me to share my thoughts and to speak, either verbally or through the written word.
I was wrong.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the room was a place for people to share what was on their hearts. They came into that room to talk, to unload, and to vent. My role in the room was to listen, the very thing that I had a hard time doing.
God was teaching me that in order to be a good speaker you have to be a good listener; that the best listeners are the ones that shut out their own voices and the world around them to concentrate on the person that’s right in front of them. Hmm…
Since I’m talking about the way God works, and confessing a couple of things, I may as well share this with you.
In March of 2009 Jackie and I began attending Church of The Highlands here in Birmingham. Highlands is a non-denominational Christian church, which I believe is the best place for me to be at this moment. The culture at Church of The Highlands is so much different from the one that I grew up in, in ways that I won’t even attempt to cover right now. There is one thing that I want to talk about right now though, and that is prayer.
Before you jump to conclusions, let me assure you that prayer was a huge part of the church that I used to attend. In fact, I learned many prayers when I was a young child, and there was always corporate prayer during the church services. I knew what prayer was, to be sure. I knew how to pray for my needs, and how to pray for others.
What I wasn’t accustomed to, that’s very prevalent at Church of The Highlands, is praying with someone. I’m talking about personal prayer, like taking a person’s hand in your own, and praying out loud for their specific needs. I’ve gotta tell you that I wasn’t used to it, and I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it! My silent reaction to a person’s offer to pray for me was, “Look, you can pray for me all that you want to, and I’ll be grateful for it. But you ain’t gonna do it right here and now, not out loud, not in person, and definitely not in public!” Of course, I wouldn’t refuse to let them pray for me. I’d stand there and tolerate until they were through! Conversely, if I was listening to someone else, my thought was “I hope you don’t ask me to pray for you cause that would just be weird.”
Then God had this great idea for us to put the room in our salon. Here’s the thing: Even as the room was being constructed, I had no idea that it was gonna be a prayer room! That is, until the very first visitor asked me if I would pray for her after twenty or thirty minutes of conversation. Fighting the urge to excuse myself from the room, I nodded in agreement, closed my eyes, and began to pray.
This scenario repeated itself several times over the next few days, and in the process a couple of things happened. First, I began putting my fears on the back burner and prayed more boldly, taking my attention off of myself and what I was saying, and just letting my thoughts for that individual flow from my mouth in prayer. Secondly, I began to realize the unbelievable blessings that I was receiving for having the sacred privilege of praying for someone.
It has been fifteen months…
since we opened the prayer room in our salon. During that time, I’ve not only learned to be a good listener, but I love to listen to what’s on a person’s heart. The same can be said for prayer. Nothing humbles me more than those God-given personal opportunities to pray for someone in need. Nothing.
Funny how God works. He can take those things that we’re most uncomfortable with and make them desires of our hearts, even as we’re resisting what he’s doing.
And oh by the way…I still love to speak to people. I never pass up an opportunity to share my love for Jesus with someone, and the fire within me to take His message around the world burns as hot as ever. Well, of course God knows this. I still remind Him of it every day!
Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 08/08/2011 at 7:53 AM | Categories: