Christmas is a time for memories. I always enjoy looking back over the December issues of Charismaand re-reading all of my Christmas-related columns.
Some had to do with Christmas customs; others were about the culture wars to take Christout of Christmas. Some years, I showed pictures of my staff or my young family and shared my own Christmas memories.
Every couple of years, starting in 1984, I’d urge readers—much as I am now—to do what my wife, Joy, and I have done for years: give a tithe of what we spend at Christmas to the poor.
This was etched in my mind as a child when one Christmas my parents asked my brother, sister and me to pick a gift from the many we’d received and give it to a family in our church that didn’t have much. I don’t remember the details, but I think the father was out of work. In fact, I can’t recall what I gave—but I do remember going to their house to give them our gifts and how happy they seemed.
Christmas is about giving. It’s when God gave His Son. And didn’t the tradition of gift-giving originate with the magi, who brought gifts to the Christ child?
Yet Christmas has become an orgy of consumer spending. Many retailers make most of their annual profit at Christmas time. Even as believers, we tend to get caught up in the world’s values of buying gifts. Usually our purchases are for loved ones who already probably have much more than they need.
The antidote, I believe, is to be proactive, to consciously give to the poor and to encourage others to do the same. When I first urged Charisma readers in 1984, and in many December issues since then, to give to worthwhile ministries at Christmas, it was because I believe that in giving to “the least of these My brethren,” as Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, you’re giving to Christ Himself.
A practical suggestion on how to do this is to give a tithe of what you spend on others. For instance, if you spend $1,000 at Christmas on gifts, determine you’ll give $100. My family does this. Over the years we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, much of it through Christian Life Missions, our nonprofit partner. If every reader of Charisma gave only $5, it would total more than $1 million this year.
There are many ministries or needs you can give to. It doesn’t matter so much whom you give to but that you give and do it as unto the Lord. We believe it will make all the difference in the way you celebrate Christ’s birth this year.
From all of us at Charisma, a very merry and blessed Christmas to everyone and a happy New Year!
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been thinking about. In other words, I’ve been listening closer into the spiritual realm to discern the demonic activity trying to come against my mind and trying to come against people in my region.
When I was driving to church last week, for example, I suddenly heard thoughts like, “I’m so discouraged.” When I got in the car and started driving, I was happy as a lark, listening to classical music and praying. But when I crossed the line into Fort Lauderdale, Fla., thoughts of discouragement suddenly started bombarding my mind.
Although I’ve experienced this before, I almost fell for it. I started thinking about discouraging things going on in my life and in the world. By the time I pulled into the church parking lot, I was deflated. And then the Holy Spirit broke in and reminded me, “That’s not your thought.”
I called a friend and asked her if she was sensing discouragement in the spiritual climate, and she offered a confirmation. As a church, we prayed against a spirit of discouragement, loneliness and oppression, and we felt something break. The joy of the Lord fell on the congregation, and we had a lovely service.
What Are You Thinking About?
Of course, it’s not always something in the city I’m hearing. Sometimes the enemy is targeting my mind with destructive or seductive thoughts. Yes, Satan does put thoughts in our minds. Consider Luke 4:3, where “the devil said” things to Jesus. The devil is a spirit—a fallen angel—who moves in the spirit realm. He doesn’t need a body to talk to you any more than God needs a body to talk to you. Just as the devil talked to Jesus, he’s still talking to people today.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been thinking about. In other words, I’ve been keener on discerning the thoughts that are floating around in my mind and their origin. Did you know that you could go throughout much of your day on autopilot? You can get dressed for work in the morning, drive to the office, drive home, cook dinner and watch television at night while your mind is reasoning through all sorts of thoughts.
We need to start paying attention to what we’re thinking about and the origin of those thoughts. We need to be quicker to listen to the inner talk going on in our souls. When we do, we’ll start to discern the demonic strategies against our lives. For example, you may hear thoughts like, “No one appreciates me.” If you reason that thought out in your mind, you’ll end up a little angry, maybe resentful and eventually bitter. That thought will eventually drive your behavior toward the people you feel underappreciate you.
God’s Thoughts Versus Satan’s Thoughts
Where are your thoughts coming from? God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:9). Satan’s thoughts are lower than God’s thoughts. Which way our internal thought life sways depends, in part, on our reasoning. God’s thoughts toward us are of peace and not of evil, to give us a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). Satan’s thoughts toward us are of war and not of goodness, to give us a future without hope. Which way our internal thought life leans depends, in part, on our reasoning.
Although our thoughts will never reach the height of God’s thoughts—the Creator is all-knowing—our thoughts need not reach the lows of Satan’s thoughts. In other words, God gave us the ability to reason and a free will to choose what we think about—whether thoughts of peace and hope or thoughts of evil and hopelessness. So, stop and think about what you’re thinking about.
And know this: Many of the negative words we speak and the ungodly actions we take originate from the seed of a thought Satan whispers to our souls. That seed can grow into demon-inspired weeds as our minds reason out the thought. That seed can spark a fire in our souls, so to speak, that fuels more wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong deeds.
When the enemy plants a vain imagination in our minds, we have two choices: cast it down or meditate on it. When we meditate on vain imaginations, we tend to connect demonic dots that create skewed pictures of reality. Believing what we see in our thought life is real, we talk ourselves into taking action based on a wrong perception. That action could be a negative attitude toward people, an angry outburst that hurts someone you love, or a sinful behavior that leads you into bondage. But believe this: It all starts with a thought.
There’s a war in your mind whether you discern it or not. I urge you to start discerning what is going on in your mind, will and emotions and to bring your mind into submission to the mind, will and emotions of God by His grace. Paul put it this way: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Amen.
Be sure to check out the video below for more of my teaching on this topic.
“Let’s wrap up boxes and books and put them under the tree,” my mom said one night. I was six-years-old and didn’t think anything was odd about wrapping up books and empty boxes. I was excited about the idea of spending time with mom who was busy working from early in the morning as a farm laborer. Most of the time she was asleep when I got home from school.
My little brother and sister were excited about the brightly wrapped presents with shiny bows under the sparkling tinsel tree. I realized that the reason we wrapped those gifts is because she had no money to buy presents. I kept that secret until mom told us we would open our gifts after we came back from grandma and grandpa’s house.
Thinking back on that Christmas, she was trying to feed three kids on a farm laborer’s wage. I remember we had to stand in line with food stamps to buy groceries, which was really embarrassing. We had no presents that year from mom but in later years I gained three gifts that have proven priceless over and over again.
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
The gift of faith. My grandpa picked us up that day. On the way to his house, a police car pulled up behind him with flashing lights. He didn’t understand why he was getting pulled over since he always drove under the speed limit. The policeman asked him how many children were in the car. He went back to his car and returned with an arm full of presents.
We weren’t Christians but I believed that my mom had faith that something good was going to happen that day despite the despair of trying to feed her children on farm laborer’s wages and the shame of receiving welfare checks and food stamps. My mom became a Christian many years later but she always had this incredible optimism and faith in her.
The unexpected presents from an unexpected source are like the gifts that God brings everyday. We take these gifts for granted — the gift of a relationship, the gift of a job in a bad economy or the gift of a child’s love. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1 We can carry God’s faith into our holiday gatherings.
My mom taught me to live by faith and that lesson brought me unexpected scholarships that I didn’t apply for to get into college.
The gift of hope. Fast forward many years and I’m college student paying my own way in Hawaii. I have no money to buy presents and my family lives in California. I pray and ask God for creative ideas for presents for my friends and family. I pray for each person that I want to give a gift to and suddenly I get an idea for writing a story about how that person reminds me of a character in the Bible.
Each person receives a story with pictures in a little booklet. Every person I gave that booklet to say that was the best gift they had ever received. Through those stories, I gave them the gift of hope. I gave the gift that they are becoming someone who Jesus intended to them to be. I stirred up the flame of destiny in them through the words on that page. The cost for that present was my time seeking the Lord on their behalf. We can give the gift of hope in this holiday season by being a vessel for Him to speak His words of life and hope to others.
The gift of love. My friend Faith calls me right before Christmas in 1998. I’m fighting depression after my mom died. I’m hopeless and this dark cloud sits over me. I have a wonderful Christian husband, two beautiful little boys, a gorgeous home, and great job but can’t enjoy any of it because of the depression. Faith says she wants to fly me from Columbia, MO. to West Palm Beach to go with her to some revival services.
Right after New Year‘s, I fly to West Palm Beach. Faith takes me to revival services at her church and I receive an incredible touch from God. That time prepares me for my visit to the Smithton Outpouring in February where I’m set free from depression. Hope and faith come back with the love of my friend. Faith gave me the gift of love that set me in the right direction at that time.
Demonstrate God’s love during this holiday season. Love is the engine of faith and hope in action carrying His presence into the room. Call that person who needs His love. Or take them to lunch or dinner. Above all, take action. Don’t let another Christmas pass by without reaching out to that person who has been on your heart.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Give the gifts that keep giving after Christmas – the gift of faith, hope and love.
Leilani Haywoodis the editor of SpiritLed Woman and a frequent contributor to Charisma. She is an award-winning writer who has been published in The Kansas City Star, Focus on the Family, Metrovoice Newspaper and many other publications.
Pastors may not be perfect, but we expect to be able to trust them. We expect them to tell us the truth in love—even when it’s not what we want to hear. We expect them to live honest lives. Are we expecting too much? Have a handful of high-profile pastorscandals left us skeptical? Or are pastors just victims of an increasingly secularized society?
Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47 percent, according to a newGallup poll. That’s the first time this rating has dropped below 50 percent since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. According to the pollster, clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67 percent in 1985.
By way of context, nurses are the most trusted profession, followed by pharmacists, grade school teachers, medical doctors, military officers and police officers. Clergy ranked seventh on the list—and higher than judges, nursing home operators, bankers, newspaper and TV reporters, members of Congress and salespeople.
But the bottom line is the American public’s trust in clergy is sliding downward. So what’s going on? If you believe Gallup’s Art Swift, Americans probably base their honesty and ethics ratings of professions on various information sources.
“One is clearly stereotypes of the kinds of people who enter into certain professions, with Americans generally holding car salespeople, lobbyists, and lawyers in lower regard, even though there are surely some honest people working in those professions,” he says. “A second source could be Americans’ own real-world experience with people who work in those professions. A third important source are news stories, particularly scandals, involving certain professions.”
Swift offers interesting insights about real-world experience and scandals. I believe both are relevant to the pastor trustworthiness question. Do I believe the declining trust rating is because so many pastorshave fallen into public sin? That may be a contributing factor, as well as the number of Christians who have been spiritually abused or otherwise hurt at the hands of their pastors. But I believe those are smaller brush strokes in the bigger picture. More on that in a minute.
First, keep in mind that this Gallup poll wasn’t taken exclusively at churches. So it’s not a direct reflection on how much Christians trust their pastors. But it is a direct reflection on how an increasingly secular society views clergy—and it’s quite likely that some who were polled are Bible-carrying, churchgoing, born-again believers.
I occasionally enjoy watching television from the 1950s. (Leave it to Beaver is one of my all-time favorites.) Even silly black-and-white sitcoms treat clergy as members of society that deserve the highest levels of trust. Doctors move aside when the pastor comes in to pray for the sick. Drunkards straighten up when the priest walks by. Even rebels without a cause show some reverence for ministers in shows from the 1950s and 1960s. But over the decades, just as the fabric of American society has been sullied, so has the reputation of pastors.
So, yes, I am sure that real-world experience and scandals factor into the distrust picture. But I believe the bigger issue is an antichrist spirit that works against the credibility of all those who stand in the pulpit and the public square declaring Jesus is Lord. I believe as American society has done away with school prayer, has legalized abortion and has elected government officials who are working against the principles of our Constitution, we’ve drifted farther away from God, and many don’t want to hear what pastors have to say.
The bottom line: People don’t trust pastors the way they used to—and it’s largely not the pastors’ fault. The sin-rocked churches are really few and far between when compared to the larger body of Christ. Our ultimate trust should be in God, but if people can’t trust pastors, then the enemy can keep them away from the truth that they proclaim. Pastors deserve our utmost respect. They aren’t perfect people, and they may disappoint us or even hurt us at times. But they are standing in the line of fire day in and day out. We need to pray for our pastors, and we need to pray for our nation.
We’re called to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). But our adversary the devil roams around like a roaring lion intent on devouring your faith (1 Pet. 5:8).
One way the devil does this is by trying to choke you, or put you in a stranglehold. In the wrestling world—and remember, we’re wresting against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places, according to Ephesians 6:12—a stranglehold is an illegal hold that chokes the opponent. Merriam-Webster calls it a “force or influence that chokes or suppresses freedom of movement or expression.” If the wrestler doesn’t break free from the stranglehold, the lack of blood or air can cause him to black out.
Translating this to our spiritual realities, the enemy wants to choke the Word of God out of your mouth so you can’t wield your sword of the Spirit or pray. The enemy wants to choke your revelation of who you are in Christ and your authority over him. The enemy wants to counter the work of the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in your life so you’ll sideline yourself. We need to learn how to prevent the enemy from getting us into a stranglehold in the first place—but if we’ve fallen into the devil’s trap, we can break free with one simple prayer.
Worry: The Devil’s Stranglehold
What is this stranglehold I’m talking about? Worry. Did you know that one definition of worry is “to harass by tearing, biting or snapping especially at the throat” and “to shake or pull at with the teeth” or to “to assail with rough or aggressive attack or treatment”?
This is one of the enemy’s so-called roaring lion tactics. He magnifies our circumstances to get us to worry. Once we begin to worry, he moves in position to engage us in a stranglehold that makes us feel powerless to do anything about that which we’re worrying. It’s a clever strategy that plays on internal cares that we haven’t cast on the Lord—or that we continue taking back from His able hands.
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Breaking Free From Satan’s Stranglehold
Jesus warns us repeatedly not to worry, but He also tells us what to do instead. He inspires our faith for provision by telling us to look at nature and assuring us of our value to Him. Then He instructs us to get our mind off what we need—and that could be anything, from provision to healing to protection to relationship-mending and beyond—and seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
In His infinite wisdom, Jesus knows that if you focus on what the enemy shows you—the lack, the symptoms, the trial, the trouble—you’ll worry and fall into Satan’s stranglehold. But if you focus on the kingdom and His righteousness, you’ll build your faith to overcome any circumstance. If you seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, Satan can’t get you into a stranglehold.
If you’ve already fallen into the enemy’s trap, you can do what Peter suggested before he warns us to be vigilant, “because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8): You can cast all your worry on Him, because He cares for you (v. 7). And when you feel that anxiety and worry rising up in your soul, you can take Paul’s advice:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
When you do these things, the enemy can’t keep his grip on you. Amen.
Like most families, ours has certain traditions for Christmas. Since we live in Orlando, often we will take advantage of the special Christmas programs at some of the theme parks. Over the years, we have enjoyed the Christmas processional at Epcot, where they read the Christmas story from the Bible and have local choirs involved and sing Christmas carols. It’s a beautiful, traditional experience.
Some of the other theme parks, such as Universal, tend to go the politically correct route by calling their festivities “holiday traditions” and titling their program “Naughty or Nice.” I’m simply speculating, but I’m sure they focus more on the naughty than the nice.
When I learned about SeaWorld’s Christmas celebration, it was a pleasant surprise. While it includes a lot of things that are extra-scriptural, such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees, it also includes some very respectful presentations of the Christmas story. Without being religious or proselytizing, the program allows the gospel message to speak for itself with the simple story from the New Testament in which the Christ child was born in a manager in Bethlehem to become the Savior of the world.
Last weekend we took our family, including our 4-year-old grandson, Cohen, to SeaWorld and enjoyed several shows. The Shamu show included a gospel singer singing about “the miracle” of Christmas. But the best show was called “O Wondrous Night.”
I posted a clip on Facebook showing the singing, the dancing and the creative way they told the story through the eyes of the animals, with puppets as the performers. Any church would have been proud of such a program had they had the budget. With the crescendo, real animals were brought in as the singers danced and sang their way through a medley of choruses.
The message of the gospel came through loud and clear, and the crowd loved it, giving a standing ovation.
Throughout our time at SeaWorld, we noticed people did not seem self-conscious about using the wordChristmas or saying “Merry Christmas,” and it made me wonder why a predominantly Christian nation has attempted to neuter this happiest of all holidays.
If you plan to be in Orlando or if you live within driving distance, I urge you to take advantage of this very special presentation. The cost of a day’s admission during the Christmas season turns into an annual pass and allows my family and me to enjoy the very special exhibits and animal shows several times throughout the year.
If you have attended SeaWorld’s Christmas celebration or if you’ve seen other wonderful shows that glorify the real meaning of Christmas, please share them in the comments below. And let SeaWorld know you appreciate this even-handed treatment of the traditional Christmas story by sending an email to SWF.PR@SeaWorld.com.
Steve Strang is the founder and publisher of Charisma. Follow him on Twitter at @sstrang or Facebook (stephenestrang).