The Seed of Hope

A gift for tomorrow

Viewing by month: June 2012

Opposing ForceS

One morning a couple of weeks ago I was reading that day’s suggested passages from the One Year Bible, which is a plan that takes you from Genesis to Revelation, from cover to cover, in a twelve month period (hence the name). My wife Jackie and I began following the One Year Bible just over three years ago for several reasons:

 

·         We begin each day with God’s Word, as husband and wife, as best friends, as partners in life, and above all else, as Christians. For many years our day began with coffee and conversation, which was good, but we’ve found that sharing Scripture together is even better!

·         We “grow” in God’s Word. With all the negative sights, sounds, and news in the world today, the Bible has been in the past, is today, and will be in the future a source of truth and hope.

·         I conclude our readings each morning by “covering us” in God’s Armor, as found in Ephesians 6:10-20. I’ve done a bit of reflecting on this morning ritual, and I think that it’s not so much the reciting of the passage as it is the willful, conscious, asking to be protected from the attacks of the enemy and to be Spirit-filled every day.

·         This marks the fourth time that we’ve done the One Year Bible, and each time I’ve “seen” something that I’ve never seen before. I believe that this insight is a result of being at a different spiritual level each time, and from asking God to reveal more of His Word to me…

 

 

On this particular day the passage was from Acts 7 and 8, and we read about two men so completely different that the only thing they seemingly had in common was that their names begin with an “S.” Oh yeah, there also just happened to be two more S’s mentioned in the passage…

 

The first of these men, Stephen, was a Disciple of Christ. Perhaps even more important was the fact that Stephen was filled by the Spirit, and as a result, walked with a boldness that matched his passion for and love of the Lord.

 

We get a glimpse of that boldness as Stephen “calls out” the Jewish leaders for their offenses against God and His people, and especially for murdering Jesus, the Messiah.

 

Infuriated, the Jewish leaders raised their fists at Stephen, expecting him to recant his words. Undaunted, unafraid, and Spirit-filled, Stephen continued with his accusations. Pushed to the breaking point by Stephen’s words, the leaders dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him. Even as he was being stoned to death, Stephen offered a prayer to God asking that his murderers not be held accountable for their sin.

 

Among the gathering of people witnessing the unfolding of events was the second “S”, a young man named Saul. Saul’s hatred for the followers of Christ was as intense as Stephen’s love for them, so much so that his sole purpose in life was to seek out and persecute the believers, and to destroy the church.

 

It was the final “S” that fueled Saul’s hatred and passion, and his name was Satan, whose purpose is to “steal, kill, and destroy.” John 10:10

 

By nature, Saul was a good man with a heart as good as Stephen’s. This became evident when God called on Saul to serve Him. Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he went on to write a good portion of the New Testament and can probably be credited with spreading the Gospel as much if not more than the chosen Twelve.

 

I cannot pass up this opportunity to say for probably the umpteenth time, that Paul is my favorite person in the Bible. Paul was called by Jesus, was radically saved, and devoted his life to sharing the Word and growing God’s Kingdom; all things that I can associate with. Perhaps even more important is that fact the God will use the least likely and seemingly least worthy of us to serve Him.

 

Heart  

 

We’re all born with a good heart, you know? We all have God’s heart in us at birth, because He loves us all the same. He doesn’t play favorites. What happened to Saul is exactly what happens to many of us: we fall victim to Satan’s vast array of weapons and tricks, and in the process we fall farther and farther away from God.

 

What can we do to avoid this? Ask God for help. Pray, not only for yourself, but also for others, as did Stephen. Ask for the Mind of Christ. Seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Draw a line in the sand…take a stand…make a commitment to you and to God to walk with Him and not with Satan.

 

Walk in freedom. Walk with boldness. Walk, as we are all created to walk, being filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

In and through Jesus we are victors. We don’t have to be victims.

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 06/26/2012 at 1:33 PM | Categories: Life - Faith -

Fatherly Advice

A few days ago I saw a facebook posting by Annie, one of my dearest friends. Annie just happened to be the lady responsible for me picking up a Bible five years ago, an event that helped change the course of my life, to be sure.

 

It’s also worth mentioning here that Annie also just happens to be the wife of a Nazarene Pastor in Molalla, Oregon! That being said, here was Annie’s post:

 

Once again the Pastor has invited me to speak during the Sunday morning service in which we will be honoring and praising DADS. The sermon title is "God Wants to Love You Through Me." Any ways that your Dad expressed love to you and words of wisdom your dad has given you may be inserted into the message!

 

At first I dismissed the notion of responding to Annie’s invitation. Then I had a change of heart.

 

Before I continue, I want to tell you and my Dad (who I believe without a doubt is in heaven) that this is in no way a sign of disrespect to him. My Dad was an amazing man with a heart for people and an even bigger heart for God. Before his sudden and untimely death at the age of seventy-four, my Dad had imparted many words of wisdom to me, expressed that he loved me in many ways, and though it was late coming, was the first to let me see what a man-to-man friendship really looked like. I have since his death, and always will, miss my Dad’s physical presence in my life.

 

Having had a change of heart, I did indeed respond to Annie’s invitation. What I had to share with Annie is what I want to share with you today, and it’s about my other Dad: my heavenly Father. 

 

God has laid a lot of things on my heart since I got hungry for Him back in 2006. He has revealed so much of Himself to me, because I’ve asked Him to. In the process, He has also revealed a ton of stuff about me to me! He still does to this day. In fact what I want share with you now was something that I truly just realized last Tuesday night as I was driving to a men’s small group that I’ve been attending at church. I had been invited to share my testimony with the other men in the group, and I was asking God to give me a “nugget” for the guys.

 

This is what I got…

 

Perfection

 

When you were born, Sam, you were PERFECT. You came into this world exactly the way that I wanted you to be, because I don’t make mistakes. You looked exactly the way that I wanted you to look, and you had the heart and mind that I wanted you to have. You were perfect in every way.

 

And then the world and the enemy polluted your mind and robbed you of the perfectness that I created in you. You were still perfect in My eyes, but you lost sight of it in yours. You forgot. It’s time to remember who you are, how you were made, and to begin walking out the plans that I have for you.

 

I’ll tell you…I’ve kinda known for a while what God downloaded into my heart and mind on Tuesday night. In fact, my friend Brooke and I were talking about this very thing, this remembering, just a couple of months ago. There have been many occasions during the past several years when I’ve had “epiphanies” about God and me. The majority of them were true revelations; things revealed to me that I’d never known. But some of them felt like something that I already knew but had forgotten. I don’t know if any of this makes any sense to you, but I don’t know that I could offer a better explanation to you than the one that I just did. Sorry. 

 

That being said, I was taken aback when I got the “message” on Tuesday night. Why so?

 

There are things in life that you just know, like your name, or your hometown, or what you do for a living. There are things in life that you know that carries some emotion with them, such as your favorite song, or a favorite movie, or a hobby that you truly enjoy. There are things in life that you know that are affairs of the heart, and are purely emotional, such as your feelings for your spouse or your family, or perhaps a best friend.

 

Then there are epiphanies. Webster defines an epiphany as “a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something” and “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.” For me, an epiphany is like taking all of the aforementioned things that I know and combining them with God’s touch to create something akin to a supernova! Again, I find myself groping for the right words to convey what I’m trying to share not only my thoughts, but the feelings that accompany them, and right now I feel as if I’m falling woefully short of doing that. Sorry.

 

All that being said, here’s where I am with this:

 

I believe that I was perfect when God created me. No, I’m not saying that I’m perfect, as in flawless. I’m saying that He was perfect in His intentions; He made me just the way that He wanted me to be.

 

Look, I’m not saying that I’m close to being perfect. In fact, I’m far from it. But that doesn’t keep me from trying to live up to the man that God created me to be each and every day. If I’m giving all I have to being the best me that I can be and giving my best to God, then I’m really liking the guy that’s looking back in the mirror.

 

And you?

 

If you’re not there already, I’m asking you to open your mind and your heart to the fact that God made you just the way that He wanted you to be. If you commit to doing this, I’ll go ahead and give you a heads-up based on my own personal experience: It won’t be easy. There are layers and layers of lies, and hurts, and guilt, and unworthiness, and insecurity, and regrets that have to come off for you to see the real you, the child of God that was “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

 

Don’t know where to start?

 

It’s hard to change the view that we’ve had of ourselves for years and years. We get so accustomed to who we’ve become that it’s almost impossible to “remember” who and what we were when we were born.

 

Perhaps you should start by taking a good look at God before you try to see yourself in a different light. We have an amazing Father who doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t get “do-overs” because He doesn’t need them. “Oops” is NOT in His vocabulary! He made you exactly the way He wanted you to be. Everything about you: your looks, your mind, and your heart were based on the blueprint that He drew up just for you.

 

My prayer for you is that in reading this you’ve had an epiphany. That you’ve come to realize something that you may have suspected, but not known. That you’re beginning accept God’s perfection in you. That you’ve had a supernova!

 

One question remains?

 

Now that you know this, what are you gonna do about it?

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 06/19/2012 at 1:37 PM | Categories: Life - Faith -

Settling for Substitutes

My epiphany began with my morning cup of coffee. I’d just completed my morning ritual of prayer and devotion (my God time), and was eagerly anticipating my “man-I-love-that-first-cup-of-coffee-in-the-morning-cause-it-tastes-so-good-and-feels-so-good-going-down!”

 

I had filled my cup with java and opened the cabinet door to grab the bottle of agave nectar to sweeten it up a bit. My wife Jackie stumbled upon agave nectar a couple of years ago during a 21 day period of fasting that we where going through at church, and at her suggestion, we’ve been using it ever since. The nectar, a natural sweetener, is actually the sap of the agave plant, which is native to South America. We use it as a sugar substitute because it’s supposed to be better for you than the real stuff. It is sweet, to be sure. And I have no doubt that it’s better for me than sugar. There’s just one problem:

 

It ain’t sugar!

 

Even after two years, my taste buds know that something’s different, and my mind definitely knows that while the nectar tastes good, it’s just not sugar!

 

On this particular morning, as I reached for the bottle of nectar, my eyes betrayed me and settled on the sugar bowl: the one that contained the real stuff. Making a split decision, I defiantly took the sugar bowl from the cabinet, dumped a heaping teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, sat down in my prayer chair, and savored that first sip of coffee made the way that I like it; no substitutes!

 

As I absentmindedly gazed into my cup of coffee, my mental wheels began to turn, and my thoughts turned to my life since I was born again in 2006, but especially the past three years…

 

March 8, 2009

 

I’ll never forget the date. It was the first time that Jackie and I attended a service at Church of The Highlands, here in Birmingham. It was a landmark day for me, punctuated by one of those “hall of fame” moments in time that changed the course of my life forever.

 

At this point, and before I continue, there’s something that I need to try to explain as best I can…

 

Since that day in March, many people, including and especially members of my family, have asked why I made the decision to attend a non-denominational Christian church after having been a member of another church all my life.

 

I won’t try to explain this to you in detail because quite simply, it would take too long. I will tell you that for three years leading up to that day, I had been desperately hungry for something that had been missing in my life for a long time, and quite possibly since I was born.

 

What I found that Sunday morning was the beginning of a real relationship with a real God. I began to understand a Jesus that I’d always heard about but had never known. And I begin a walk with the Holy Spirit that continues to grow stronger and more purposeful each day.

 

The funny thing is that Jackie and I just happened to be at Church of The Highlands when it happened. I truly believe that it was God’s plan for me to find Him in that church on that day. In other words, He could’ve led us to any other church in Birmingham, or for that matter, any other church in the world, but it was His plan for us to attend Church of The Highlands.

 

Since that day…

 

What I’m gonna share with you now is not from a prideful perspective, as if to say, “Hey, look at what I’ve done! Kudos to me! Aren’t I special?” It’s not about that at all. It is about what God has allowed me to do during my three plus years at the church, and truth be told, I’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude and humbled by the opportunities that God has given me to serve.

 

When we joined the church two weeks later, I was on fire for God, and I was eager to volunteer for any and all opportunities to serve that I could sign up for.

 

Since we joined Highlands:

 

·         Jackie and I have opened our home as Home Sponsors to fiveministry students from various parts of the country.

·         I’ve served as a Hub Leader and Recruiter for other Home Sponsors.

·         I’ve been a part of a team that planted a satellite church campus here in Birmingham.

·         I’ve either lead or co-lead six different Bible study/fellowship/Life small groups in our home or business.

·         I’ve been a contributing writer for a Daily Devotional for Highlands College, a branch of our church.

·         I’ve served as a mentor for several of our students.

 

OOOOHHH!

 

Here’s what I realized as I stared into my cup of coffee that was sweetened with the real deal, not a substitute…

 

My use of agave nectar and my activities in church ran parallel to one another! Yeah, I can imagine that you’re laughing at this moment, but check this out.

 

Everything, and I mean everything that I’ve done in and with church has been good for me. It’s been more than that: it has been an absolute blessing, and has helped me to grow as an individual and as a leader outside of our business, and has helped me to grow spiritually, and has given me a circle of like-minded God loving friends that have been invaluable in my journey, and has given me more blessings that I could list or probably even realize.

 

But just as the agave fell short of taking the place of sugar for me, so has all the capacities in which I’ve served at church.

 

You see, all the things that I’ve done at Church of The Highlands have been a substitute for what I really want to do, which is motivational/inspirational public speaking and having a book published. These are the desires of my heart: To speak, to share, to connect, to enlighten, to give hope, to empower, to do and to go. So there…I said it. For you, and God, and the rest of the world to hear.

 

From this point on, the majority of my efforts will be directed towards making the desires of my heart a reality. Oh, I’ll still remain active to some degree in church, but not like I have in the past. And I’ll still be available in the prayer room in our hair salon to listen to the hearts of those that God sends there. And if God keeps giving me the words, I’ll continue to write The Seed of hope. And of course, I’m gonna take advantage of every opportunity to share my testimony, and to boldly proclaim God’s goodness, when and wherever I can. But I’m also gonna appropriate some time for me move forward in whatever it is that God has planned for me. I believe that it’s a season for me to move closer to my dreams.

 

Do my dreams sound self-centered to you? Maybe so, but God put ‘em in my heart. After all, He IS the dream giver, and He gave mine to me. Then too, I believe that all of the opportunities that He has given me at church have been to prepare me for what is to come. Don’t ask me to tell you what that is, because I don’t know. All I know is that I have to be ready, willing, and obedient.

 

So why am I sharing all of this with you?

 

The answer is simple. I don’t want you to settle for substitutes.

 

Look, it’s okay to have substitutes. I’m just asking you not to settle for them forever. Not in your career, in your relationships, in your hobbies, and certainly not in the desires of your heart. Don’t make the mistake of trying to substitute a fill-in for a passion that you may have. You may be blessed by the substitutes, you may grow from them, and if you’re fortunate enough, you’ll be a blessing to someone else in the process. And there is nothing at all wrong with that.

 

Just don’t lose sight or give up on the desires of your heart, and don’t trick yourself into thinking that something else will satisfy that passion in your heart. It probably won’t.

 

Chances are that one day, you’ll look back with regret on the dreams that you gave up on, and you’ll spend the rest of your days wondering “What if?”

 

Posted by Sam Maniscalco on 06/12/2012 at 6:20 AM | Categories: Life - Faith -

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