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An Uncluttered Christmas

I used to be a consummate Christmas shopper. By the time December hit, I was way ahead of the game. I would have a mountain of bargain finds, admired goodies and toys to die for tucked away on a shelf just waiting to be wrapped and stowed lovingly under the tree. I found that shopping ahead spread the financial burden throughout the year and helped me avoid the last-minute holiday shopping rush.



Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant strategy.



It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, but I felt like a louse! The tree looked bulimic — only I was the one who had binged. Brilliantly wrapped packages were bulging from every available nook and cranny.



I slumped to the floor and thought, "We have only two children. There's enough here for 10!"



My husband and I stared at each other. We realized that things had gotten out of hand. We had to ask ourselves: What message are we giving our children?



One by one we started dismantling the swollen pile. This present can wait for a birthday, this one for next Christmas, this one for a special reward for hard work.

Finally the stack looked sensible.



Right then and there, we made a decision. In the future, Christmas gifts would be limited to three types: (1) A gift really desired; (2) a needed item; 3) something educational. Of course, our children hated the idea and hoped we would eventually come to our senses.



We haven't.



And we've seen a change. No longer is Christmas an endless list of "wants." There is a new emphasis on cherished gifts. This represents a stark contrast to the disturbing trend among kids today to feel entitled to get whatever they want, whenever they want it.



As I've listened to children move through the hallways of our house, I've heard the chatter of "more." "We have more videos than you." "I have a CD player in my room." "You don't have your own phone line?" "I'm asking for a laptop." "You need a cell phone to look important."



They get it from their parents. My favorite is the mother who proudly boasts that her daughter will outdo everyone in the neighborhood. She will have the best of everything -- before everyone else. The daughter knows this strategy and is horrified if anyone beats her to the material punch.



Not understanding her conscious intention to overload her daughter with "stuff," I naively asked, "Aren't you worried you're spoiling her?" The blank stare she gave me was enough to answer my question.



One summer the hot ticket was a scooter. Everyone on our block ran to the stores to buy one. My kids asked, but they knew what was coming: "Tell me again why I should run to the store to buy you a $100 item?"



Materialism not only distorts the meaning of Christmas but also creates ungrateful kids. It's time to stop the madness. Instead of a new scooter, take your kids to a soup kitchen and let them serve. Visit a homeless shelter or a hospital children's ward, and put things in perspective.



I know what I am saying isn't new, but we need to hear it regularly. It's so easy to indulge our kids this time of year. But we need to examine our motives.



Is our overindulgence related to guilt from being absent or unavailable? Is it an attempt to communicate love, compete with others, create an identity or look successful? Is it the result of idol worship, a lack of self-restraint or misguided thinking?



When I see kids quickly open presents and throw them off to the side without even a thank you, I know something is wrong. When little Suzie tells me Christmas was no fun because she didn't get what she wanted, I am concerned. The Grinch hasn't stolen Christmas; our ungratefulness has.



Christmas is about God's giving His Son as a glorious gift to mankind. Don't clutter that gift with so many others that He gets lost in the fray. This season teach the children in your life to cherish the gift they already have — Jesus.

 

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Holy Dissatisfaction

Did you feel guilty on Thanksgiving-the day of all days to express heartfelt gratitude to God—because you aren't TOTALLY content? Perhaps you offered up the obligatory thanks for family, home, job, health and the hearty meal as you sat around the holiday feast, but inside, you were aware that your heart is not quite full to the brim with satisfaction—and you aren't sure what to do about it.

What could possibly be wrong? read more

Reflecting the Lord's Bountiful Love

I opened the front door and came face to face with a rather large gift basket wrapped in clear cellophane with a gigantic velvet orange and brown bow. It was so big that it blocked the face of the deliveryman.



The sight of such a gift was too wonderful for words! As a young married couple, Terry and I were going through hard times, with little money for extras, much less the basics!

The arrival of this surprise basket of goodies was not only timely, but a miracle!

Just who was behind this? read more

Bring on the Towels

Have you ever had mixed thoughts and emotions about your spouse? I have-just this morning, in fact.

Today started out as any other day, but for some reason things just affected me differently than they usually do. I got out of bed and began my regular devotional time with the Lord, reading the Word, studying a powerful book, and praying. When I stood to my feet, I was filled with peace and gratitude.

"I feel great!" I thought to myself. And off I went to begin what I thought was going to be a wonderful day.

The kitchen was first on my agenda. I don't know why, exactly, but I have a plaque over my stove that reads, "A kitchen is the heart of the home." When I was growing up, my mother always kept a clean kitchen, with a pot of something deliciously fragrant simmering on the stove.

The only thing fragrant about my kitchen this morning was a hot, empty coffee pot, left sitting on the coffee maker with the switch in the "on" position, by my husband.

"I get so tired of this," I thought. "Why do I have to clean up his mess?"

I picked up the pot and carried it over to the sink. There I discovered the spoon he'd used to stir the sugar in his cup. It had been set beside the sink and now lay in a brown, sugary puddle. I grabbed a cloth and began to wipe the counter-muttering the whole time.

"That man!" I said in frustration. "Why can't he just put the spoon in the sink where it belongs?"

I decided to tackle the bathroom instead. You can probably guess what I found-beard clippings and blobs of toothpaste in the sink, and puddles of water on the counter top. I turned to grab a towel.

As I did, I looked at my towel, folded neatly in thirds over the rack (Mom said double is allowed, too, but not as nice looking). My husband's towel was bunched and crumpled, as if he doesn't care at all about being neat. I stood there staring.

After a few moments, I started to unravel and re-fold his towel. But something happened to change my whole mind-set and along with it, my feelings. I looked from his towel to mine, back and forth.

I felt myself begin to soften. I started to appreciate and praise God for our differences. Feelings of love, softening my heart, began to manifest. I tenderly touched his towel, leaving it as it had been.

Then I went back into the kitchen to clear the table, where he had been sitting and drinking his cup of coffee. My eyes caught sight of his open Bible and a yellow highlighting pen. I remembered the early morning I discovered him sitting in the same chair with closed eyes and folded hands, offering up a silent prayer to God. read more

Why Me, Lord?

Have you ever asked God why? "Why me, Lord?" "Why not pick somebody else for this?" "Why am I always the one going through the fire?"



In the good times we say, "Lord, I love You." We quote, "Oh, in the volume of the book it is written of me I delight to do Your will, O Lord." Then we add, "Father take me, mold me, use me. Take my life, and let it be consecrated to Thee." read more

The Key To Freedom

When my oldest sister got engaged, I jumped right in to help. I was happy that she was so happy and eager to share in her joy. But what I saw as helping, my future brother-in-law viewed as interference. Our relationship went from bad to worse; my pride had been stepped on and I was hurting. I was treated like the scum of the earth, which only served to fuel my anger at his arrogance.



The more I thought about him, the angrier I became. Soon it was all I thought about. I was angry, bitter and stressed. My thoughts turned to revenge—surely there was some way I could hurt him back. I would have been perfectly pleased if he would have just dropped dead. read more

The Best is Yet to Come

Have you ever read the book of Acts with longing to be back in that time so you could experience the miracles and the move of the Holy Spirit? Don't worry; right now, today, God is turning that water into wine. In fact, He has saved the best wine for last, and the glory of the latter house is going to be greater than the glory of the first (see Hag. 2:9). We are going to walk in such miracles that there will be no comparison. I would rather be in this move of God than to be in the book of Acts, because this wine tastes better.



In the book of John we read that miracles are manifestations of the glory of God: "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (John 2:11, KJV). You may say, "Well, Brother John, why do you need miracles?" The answer is simple: We need the glory.



"Well, Brother John, why do we need the glory?" The answer is because it is only the glory that will change us into the image of Jesus Christ. Prophecy comes, miracles come, the glory comes and then change comes. We are changed into His likeness.



It is the glory of God that will change us into the image of Jesus Christ. There is no way we can come into contact with the glory of God and not be affected with a positive change.



I am sure that most people have not yet truly come into contact with the glory of God. How do I know? Because people can regularly attend church year after year, hear the Word, and go through all the religious motions, yet they never seem to change into the image of Jesus Christ. They stay the same. They are stuck.



People can pray, read their Bibles, and still never experience the change that God desires—until they come into contact with the glory of God. But the glory of God has not been manifested in a lot of churches; they have neither the unction nor the anointing of God.



It doesn't matter how much people may want to change. They need something more so they can reach the fulfillment of their desires. And that something more is the glory of God. Scripture says that we are changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord (see 2 Cor. 3:17-18).



We must have the glory of God in our services in order to experience change. What is the glory of God? It is the tangible, manifest presence of God. What do I mean by that?



Most people understand that God is omnipresent; people realize that God is everywhere. People therefore know that God is present whether you feel Him or not. The Bible says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, beholding the evil and the good. And yet, chances are you are not going to feel the presence of God in a bar. Instead, you are going to feel the presence of demons, sin and darkness.



The glory of God is something you can feel, sense and see. In the Old Testament, the glory of God was manifested in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. It was also manifested sometimes by smoke, although it was not literal smoke but rather the palpable strength of His presence.



When the glory of God comes, when the tangible anointing and presence of God are in a building or in a person, a person cannot help but be changed. When this happens, you are able to sense the presence of God beyond the faith realm. The influence of God is very heavy because He is manifesting Himself. His manifest presence brings a change.



People cannot come into contact with the glory and presence of God and not be changed.

I want you to notice that the best is yet to come. The Lord has kept back the good wine until the end of the age. You talk about miracles, signs and wonders—you haven't seen anything yet!



We need to pursue the glory and the presence of God. Let's decide today to pursue Him and His glory so that He can change us into His image and experience the best that is to come.

Adapted from God Still Speaks by John Eckhardt, copyright 2009, published by Charisma House. This book combines instructive, narrative teaching with powerful truths that helps bring moving in the prophetic easily achievable, while sparking your zeal to pursue the presence and glory of God and be forever changed. To order a copy click on this link: read more

Can Florence Come Out and Play?

It had been a week since my dear mother passed away at the age of 89. As a minister and follower of Jesus Christ, I knew Mother had gone home to be with the Lord. God's Word had promised heaven for all believers in Jesus (see Rom. 10:9,13). Hours before her death, I had even witnessed the miracle of my blind mother waking up from her coma, to see again—and to see a glimpse of heaven.

However, a week later, as I walked through the rooms of her house, I was sorrowful.

Would this sadness ever lift? As Mother's unofficial caregivers, my husband, Terry, and I, had come to stay with her—personally and painfully witnessing Mother, the picture of "spit and spunk"—her term for "full of life"—decline to the picture of a jaundiced corpse. Whenever I thought of Mother, it was this picture of death that would come to mind. It was so sad a picture, so unlike Mother, that it overpowered me, making me sorrowful.



On this day of visiting Mother's house, I finally cried out to the Lord: "Lord, give me a new picture of Mother I can live with—one that assures me You have restored her to joy again!"



My brief prayer request was cut short by the ringing of the front doorbell. It was Pat, a neighbor who had known Mother for years.



Pat offered her condolences about Mother's illness and death. Then, without skipping a beat, she looked me squarely in the eye and announced: "I must tell you something about your mom—or Florence, as all the kids on the block called her. Did you know that the young kids, my son included, liked to knock on her door and say, 'We're here by special invitation—can Florence come out and play?' And she always did!"



A new picture was forming in my mind—Florence, just one of the kids, full of life stepping out to play. By special invitation, mind you!



Then a curious thing happened. My jaw suddenly began to drop and quiver, not from fighting off any more tears of mourning—but from fighting a good belly laugh that was greater than the tears. I could just see it now! "Can Florence come out and play?"



Like a dam bursting, I gushed out a laugh that took me to the ground. I grabbed Pat's shoulders for support, but ended up taking her with me. Picture two mature ladies in white polyester leisure pants rolling around in raucous holy laughter on the wet green grass—in broad daylight. I'm sure this wasn't a pretty sight. But something beautiful was happening. The Lord was showing a daughter in mourning a new picture. Her mother, Florence, stepping joyously into eternity—by special invitation.



God understands our sorrow, and He can give us joy in the midst of it. He also wants to lift the burden of sadness. When we simply ask, He will turn our mourning into joy—and sometimes even laughter in a white leisure suit. read more

Never Give in to Self-Pity

One of the best examples of self-pity is the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (see John 5). Jesus knew his full condition and then, through Peter, asked the man if he wished to be healed. The man began to explain why he had not and could not be healed. Jesus seemed to quit listening to his self-pity and healed him anyway.



Self-pity is the opposite of confidence and worth. Self-pity happens when we feel we are warranted to receive but get passed by. This can occur in our natural or spiritual life. Self-pity helps define our moment or, may I say, cause us to miss our moment. We feel we are deserving or entitled to a blessing, and we lose faith when we see a blessing slip past our life. read more

Can God Trust You With His Stuff?

When God is first in your life and your greatest desire is to do His will, then every resource you have is available to Him because you understand it all belongs to Him anyway. The moment God sees you are a person who can be trusted with possessions, you suddenly qualify to receive more than you had before!


Do you know what made Abraham great? He trusted in God. Even to the point that when he didn't have a clue what God was doing, he still trusted Him. Abraham's ability to trust the Lord is what made it possible for him to go so far as to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice when God required it. Abraham understood that the child God had given to Sarah and him was actually not theirs at all.



Isaac came from God, and he belonged to the Lord. If the Lord required him to be sacrificed, then Abraham was simply responsible to manage the task that he was given. Not every chore you are asked to do in your role as a manager will be pleasant, but your willingness and obedience will determine how much God can trust you. In Genesis 22:12, the angel of the Lord told Abraham, "'Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me'" (NKJV).



Was Isaac precious to Abraham? Without a doubt! He was so loved that Abraham named him the son of laughter. However, although Isaac was terribly loved, Abraham knew he could trust God with what he loved the most. It was this kind of trust that enabled Abraham to be the recipient of blessings that others could only dream about.



Abraham was called "the friend of God" (James 2:23). He was blessed in his life to the point where you would have to number the stars in the sky and the sands in the earth to calculate all that he received. He was described as being very rich in livestock, silver and gold. Abraham was increased in his life, and the lives of his descendants and heirs were increased because God could trust him.



When your priorities are centered in your source, and God can trust you with His resources, your priorities will get you where you want to go.



The next priority in your life, after the Lord, should be other people—those in the world around you. For me, that list includes, in this order: my wife and children, my extended family, and my church. Once you've decided to reconnect with God, the next place to start reconnecting is at home.



The desire to live for ourselves is an epidemic. It seems we have adopted this mindset: if it is to our benefit and someone else's detriment, so be it. What is so horrifying about this mindset is that it means no relationship is safe.



There has been a notable increase through the years of the disenchantment with marriage. Without a doubt, the root of divorce is selfishness. But consider these latest trends in our society: parents are harming and abusing their children, children are being arrested for atrocities committed against parents, and siblings are being indicted for murdering their brothers and sisters—all for the sole purpose of having what they want when they want it. From all appearances, it seems there is no limit to selfish men.



The evening news carries one story or another of a mother or a boyfriend or a relative who is being arrested for some monstrosity committed against a defenseless child. Why? Because other people no longer have a place of priority in our lives. We have truly lost touch with one another. We have devalued life to the point that it is considered expendable for the sake of convenience.



However, if you are ever going to be the person of influence that you were created to be then others will need to take their proper place of priority in your life. You can begin by identifying ways that you can be a blessing to others. Place their needs in front of yours, and consider it a joy when those around you succeed.



Answer these questions honestly: Where do others fit in your life? Are you there for them, or are they there for you? You will never truly know the power that relationship possesses until you decide to be there for the other person—no matter what. Can God trust you with His stuff? read more

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