What Makes Christmas So Great

by Francis MacNutt
Oct/Nov/Dec 2012

For many of us Christmas brings back the warmest memories of any time of the year. Even though I was a child during the Depression years and our family was financially struggling, I still remember that we always had a sumptuous turkey dinner, and my mother and father somehow managed to give my sister and me at least one gift—such as a bicycle or binoculars—that I really wanted. Although I understand intellectually that Christmas is not the most important feast on the Christian calendar, it is still my favorite by a big margin.

The Christian aspect of those warm feelings goes back to the religious part of it all—especially of going to church at midnight on Christmas Eve when it was snowing. Christmas was so much a family feast—a feast of warmth in the midst of a cold, wintry world—and not unlike other times of family love. I remember our dear friend Tommy Tyson was amazed, many years afterwards, when my mother prepared for us a breakfast by candlelight on the family's best china—and it wasn't even Christmas. Any morning with food on the table was a morning worth celebrating.

I now realize that so many people were not blessed with all those happy memories of family love and beauty. So many people, through no fault of their own, feel particularly sad at Christmas, contrasting their own painful memories of Christmas - past and present—with the joy they see all around them. For them, Christmas is not the most joyful time of year, but rather the saddest; the time when they feel most left out.

But for everyone who has a desolate Christmas memory, God has reserved the greatest consolation of all. What we have done has been to cover over the desolation of that first Christmas with a glow that simply wasn't there. God became a human being in Jesus in such a way that every person, especially the most downtrodden and homeless, can feel at home.

The Jewish people were still waiting for the long-awaited Messiah to appear, although God had seemed to remain silent for several hundred years. They were looking for a warrior king, like David, who would raise up an army to overthrow the Roman occupation. They looked forward to a return of the opulence of Solomon and to a glorious and powerful kingdom of God led by a warrior-king, born into a palace rather than a stable.

But consider what Jesus' birth was really like. His mother was almost cast aside as an unwed mother. They had to travel by donkey in the last days of her pregnancy, and his father, Joseph was embarrassed by not even being able to rent a room for Mary to give birth. "No room for you at this Inn. Go somewhere else." We know Joseph had to go looking for the closest quiet place and finally came up with a stable, or perhaps it was a cave. The stable would be our equivalent of giving birth in a garage—on the road, homeless. Joseph helped Mary give birth alone. No relatives to help or to celebrate. No one to help rejoice until the angels gathered a few poor shepherds from off the hillsides. We manage to put a shiny gloss upon the event: according to the accepted translation the newborn Jesus was wrapped "in swaddling clothes," and what were those but first-century "diapers," and then they laid him in a "manger," another word we don't use except at Christmas. What it really means (derived from the French word "manger," meaning "to eat") is a "feeding trough for animals."

Clearly the meaning of Christmas is that the Almighty God who created the universe, who caused the prophets to tremble in fear when they saw him high and lifted up, unexpectedly slipped into this world of ours in such a way that hardly anyone noticed. He came in such a humble way that each one of us can dare approach him—even the most poor, the most threadbare. And he didn't come in disguise, he really was poor.

Every one of us can now approach God, not even looking up, as it were, but looking down upon a helpless baby. The Almighty God has identified himself, not only as one of us, a human being, but as one of the poorest working class, so weak as a newborn that he needed to be lifted by his mother to nurse him at her breast. Instead of dressing up to meet him, we will now miss him if we don't dress down. "For I was hungry and you gave me food…in prison and you came to see me" (Matthew 25:37-41 passim).

Jesus has come to you, especially if you are the lost sheep. No matter how pitiful your life has been, he comes to you this Christmas. The only aspect of Christmas that is utterly awesome is his reaching down to you in his infinite love.

Francis MacNutt Oct/Nov/Dec 2012 Issue
Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM.

Take it to the Streets

by Don Williams
Oct/Nov/Dec 2012

John Wimber, who led the Vineyard churches for many years, once said, "The meat is on the street." What did he mean by that? Often, in church circles, people say, "I just want the meat of the Word." This reflects Paul's distinction between milk for babies and meat for adults (I Cor. 3:2, KJV). When people asked for "meat" they meant that they wanted sermons to chew on, something to build them up. Wimber's answer was (to paraphrase it) if you really want to grow, if you want to chew on something substantial, take your faith and your ministry outside the church—take it to the streets. We need this as a regular reminder! As we celebrate our Lord's birth, this reminder is especially essential. He came into the world to go to the streets, to take His ministry of love, salvation, healing and deliverance to the masses who were untouched by "religion." Christmas celebrates God's greatest gift to us in His Son, and his gift and gifts are given to us to be given away. If we fail to act on them, we will simply be spiritual consumers and shrivel up. It's on the streets that boredom is driven out. It's on the streets that faith must rise. On the streets, people are hurting and dying without a clue that God loves them and has come for them. As we go to them, we are God's gift, and as we share Jesus in practical ways, we give the gift of His grace and healing love.

I started to go to the streets for the first time during the "Jesus Movement" in the late 1960's. The protests against racism and the Vietnam War were flourishing. People were marching. Campuses were being shut down. It was relatively easy to be an evangelist for Jesus then because everybody was an evangelist for something: "Mothers against the war;" "Students for peace;" "Hippies for pot." They were all out there and we joined the crowd. Since so many were spiritually searching, we fit right in. But as Bob Dylan put it, "the times they are a-changing" and they have changed. How can we take Christmas to the streets now? My experience is that people are wide open to receiving prayer and as we do this we are revealing and releasing God's love. Here every dimension of healing can be offered and experienced in some measure.

Several years ago my wife and I planted a Vineyard church in La Jolla, California. This sea-side community is both wealthy and beautiful, with an underbelly of addiction and pain. One of our mandates was to minister to the poor. Through Robbie, a psychologist friend who ran an AID'S clinic in Mission Beach just south of us, I was introduced to people sleeping outside, living in back alleys and garages (some of whom grew up in affluent La Jolla). We opened a store front to serve them with free clothes and lunches. Our "outside" congregation grew to several hundred. These dear friends were instinctively open to prayer. As we got to know them, we got to know their emotional and physical needs. Many were on the streets because of psychiatric disorders. Many were sick and addicted. Some had run away from home. As we became their friends it was natural and normal to share Jesus with them and to pray for their healing. We were living life together. These people are everywhere if we have the eyes to see them. Recently I have had the privilege of praying for and with Angelo, an ex-Vet and now a brother who is on the streets and in the process of getting his own apartment through the help of the VA. In mid-life, he is going back to school and no longer using drugs or alcohol for self-medication. With his prominent sign asking for money, it would have been impossible for me to miss him, but unlike the Good Samaritan, I could have easily passed him by on the other side. God stopped me. My gift to him was so much more than a few dollars. I am sharing in his life and Jesus is the center. Angelo gives more to me than I do to him. Our friendship and God's love is the heart-beat at the intersection of our lives.

I have a friend, Jason, who is a Messianic Jewish Rabbi. Much of his family was lost in the Holocaust. He grew up in New Jersey and became a Disk-Jockey in New York City, working at clubs and raves. A Jewish-Christian friend kept inviting him to a Messianic Synagogue. Finally, Jason went and Jesus met him there. His life was changed and now he is a young Rabbi who believes in Jesus and is reaching his generation. We were having lunch a couple of years ago and I learned something from him. When the waitress came for our order, Jason said, "We pray before we eat and I wonder if there is anything that you would like us to pray for, for you?" Without missing a beat, she responded with several requests. This was the start of being able to offer her healing prayer. At another luncheon we asked our waitress the same question and she replied, "No thanks." A few minutes later she returned and brought us several requests that were on her heart for prayer. When we have offered to pray for people in this setting we have never been turned down.

I was out to lunch with a few friends and we asked the waitress if we could pray for her. She immediately dropped to her knees at our table (in her waitress uniform) as we prayed. I suspect that since she was Hispanic, it was as if she were at an altar rail in her Roman Catholic Church. I was amazed at her freedom to receive prayer on the spot. We never know what God will do as we step out in faith.

To be effective in this we need to learn how to pray for the lonely, lost and sick. Here is where Christian Healing Ministries can help to equip us. We also need to welcome the Holy Spirit and ask him to fill us and gift us for the streets, for our neighborhood, the people we meet and know on a daily basis. Sometimes we may have surprise encounters. Not every person I have asked to pray for has said, "Yes." However, the overwhelming response has been positive and the invitation appreciated. These encounters may lead to the opportunity to share Jesus with people. We need to be ready to present him in an honest, Biblical way. My approach over the years has been to share that Jesus addresses the three core problems in our lives. Our past: he brings forgiveness for our guilt and failure through his death on the cross. Our future: he conquers death and offers us eternal life through his resurrection. Our present: he shatters our loneliness and comes to live in us when we respond to his welcome invitation, not only to be for us, but to be in us. As my friend Jerry Moser says, "God wants to zip us open and jump inside."

I can't stress enough the importance of also being in a Christian community. There will be times when a simple prayer will lead to a relationship and the need for continuing ministry. As Francis MacNutt has taught us, most healing is progressive and needs continuing prayer. This will often cut through the layers of sickness and pain. In a momentary encounter we can start the process. We may well see miracles on the spot. But there will also be times when continuing prayer is needed and we will need the support of a circle of brothers and sisters and the larger church. If possible, it is also best to pray for people in teams. A lunch companion is a great starting teammate.

Consider taking the gift of Jesus to the streets by praying for people, relevantly praying into their needs. Who knows where this will take you. John Wimber says we spell faith "r-i-s-k." God risked it all by sending his Son into our world; He risks again by sending us into His world. Ask the Lord to free you from fear and take the step of going to the streets this Christmas. It will renew this celebration for you and put Jesus back into the center of His holiday.

Don Williams Oct/Nov/Dec 2012 Issue
Don Williams is a Vineyard pastor in La Jolla, California and is on the National Advisory Board of CHM.

You are God's Pearl

by Kathi Smith
Oct/Nov/Dec 2012

I spent my childhood growing up in the Middle East, where I experienced multiple traumas that led me to an unexpected place in life. At age 37 I found myself in a wheelchair with a rare autoimmune disorder that rendered me unable to walk. The doctors told me I might stay in the metal chair for life. It was at this point when I started my healing journey. I went to Christian Healing Ministries for prayer and asked for physical healing. The prayer ministers asked about my childhood, at which point I told them I had a normal childhood. My "normal" included wars, evacuations, abuse from strangers and an abduction. I casually told them I had gotten "past" these events, but what I soon discovered was that prayer for inner healing allowed God to fully heal what I had hidden in a closet marked "fear" inside my heart.

As a healing ministry, CHM is always looking for teaching tools and testimonies that relate to healing. Putting people on the pathway to healing is one of our mission goals. The prayer ministers at CHM were able to pray to release the things which my heart had buried and hidden. In the present I was out of physical danger but my heart still held fear and anxiety. God allowed me to take off the glasses of fear and put on the glasses that gave me God's perspective and foundation for my thinking, my parenting and even for being a spouse.

Now on the other side of healing, I no longer operate with fear as my foundation. I am out of the wheelchair enjoying a full life. I have stopped fear-based parenting. My high school daughter was in Costa Rica for the summer and my college-aged son was in Hollywood for the summer, both enjoying full lives without their mother being neurotic about their safety.

If any part of my story about "getting past" my childhood wounds resounds with you, I want to recommend a book to you. The book is not a how-to book, nor is it a study guide. Before I tell you about it, I want you to know - I picked it up one afternoon and had a well-planned meal that became a pizza delivery menu because a tumultuous storyline could not be released from my grasp. The book I want to recommend is called Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning as I turned each page that Iranian-born Tessa had penned. I followed the riveting Biblical historical fiction thread of Rahab, the woman in the Bible known by the title of "prostitute" and also known as the woman who allowed the Israelites to escape from the walls of Jericho. Tessa turns a Biblical narrative that is quite functional in the telling into a three–dimensional, unforgettable life as she weaves the story of Rahab's pain of rejection and abandonment (historically a lot of young girls were sold into prostitution by their parents in order to keep their families fed), to a story of redemption (how Rahab is used by God to save the Israelites from a life-threatening situation).

Why am I recommending this book? Why did my heart connect so closely with Pearl in the Sand? Along her path, Rahab receives inner healing. She suffered self-worth issues that were similar to mine. My shame and insecurity from my childhood events had come to a point of literally (not just figuratively) crippling me. I connected with Rahab. Different issues, same pain. Tessa's telling of Rahab's story shows how God allows both her heart and her head to be transformed and healed from the pain of her past. In quilting the pieces of Rahab's life together, Tessa's final blanket became a covering of hope to me, and I hope to you—hope in the desert.

We at Christian Healing Ministries love to teach and pray to bring light to darkness, to bring healing from pain, so all prayer recipients and school attendees might begin to operate from a foundation free from fear, free from shame. God's "Garden of Eden" intention is for us to operate from a foundation of knowing how much He loves us, how much we can trust Him.

I grew up about 170 miles north of Rahab's Jericho home. I felt a kindred spirit toward Rahab and her struggles with identity. "So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. Now she had said to them, ‘Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.'" (Joshua 2:15,16) Today I am so privileged to be a prayer minister at CHM. Like Rahab, I am blessed to participate in the freeing of captives, helping the Lord bring liberty to the brokenhearted and oppressed. If you follow Rahab's geneology in the Bible, it leads to that of Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer. Reading Pearl in the Sand reminded me that I am also a pearl that has experienced both hope in the desert and a greater understanding of God's love for myself.

Tessa just came out with her second book, Harvest of Rubies, which is just as riveting as her first. She weaves healing and hope into her writings and once more gives hope in the desert places. May God bless you and your loved ones in their healing journeys.

Kathi Smith Oct/Nov/Dec 2012 Issue
Kathi Smith is the Senior Editor of Healing Line and an active CHM prayer minister.

What Does God Have to Do with Christmas?

by Linda Strickland
Oct/Nov/Dec 2012

As a child I had a very poor image of God the Father. I had formed a picture of Him in my mind as a grim-faced old man with white hair and beard, fire in His eyes, sitting on a throne just waiting for me to be a bad girl so He could then punish me. The image I had of Him had nothing to do with my earthly father, who was kind and loving, but had everything to do with the (well-meaning) teachings I heard in church about the fire and brimstone God of the Old Testament. I can remember lying awake in my bed every night, confessing my sins over and over out of fear of what could happen if I didn't get it right. ("He's making a list, checking it twice – gonna find out who's naughty or nice.") During those adolescent years I must have asked Jesus to come into my heart a thousand times, just to make sure.

Contrasted with this image of God, on the other hand, was my image of Jesus. I have always loved Jesus! The stories I heard about Him made me feel safe and loved. The pictures of Him in my illustrated Bible for children revealed a man with kind, smiling eyes. He was often portrayed sitting with lambs and children—in a meadow or on a hillside. And then there were Christmas images of Him! Who could resist baby Jesus lying in the manger? Almost every little girl's dream is to play Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the annual Christmas pageant. Yes! I really loved Jesus.

Although it seems unbelievable to me now, I must admit that for a long time I never included God in the cast of Christmas characters. I have read and recited John 3:16 more times than I can count, and yet still, (for me) God didn't even make the credits at the end of the Christmas story. How could I so carelessly disregard the words that reveal the very reason we celebrate Christmas? "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son…"

In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer says, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." He goes on to say, "The most portentous (or significant) fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like."

One of the most amazing healings I am privileged to witness at Christian Healing Ministries again and again is the healing of someone's distorted image of God. When this happens, it is as though scales fall from the person's eyes, and they are finally able to see God for who He really is. Once this healing takes place, people can also begin to see themselves as He sees them. The transformation that begins to take place within their identity is a beautiful thing to behold!

In our School of Healing Prayer® Level I, we present a teaching called, Healing Our Image of God. In this powerful lesson we explain that there are three main causes of a distorted image of God. The first one, with which I could identify, is a lack of knowledge about what God is truly like. People often become overly fearful of God based on what they have heard through teaching. Some well-meaning preachers and teachers try to appeal primarily to the fear of God in order to discourage sinful behavior. They teach that good behavior will be rewarded, while sinful behavior will bring about curses and punishment from God. Although reverential fear of God is healthy, excessive fear is damaging to one's personal relationship with Him.

A second hindrance to knowing God can come from our understanding of God's role in suffering and death. The truth is that suffering and death are among the greatest mysteries of life, and they lack full explanation. Some people, when faced with tragedy or loss, may be led to question whether or not God directly caused it. This kind of thinking can lead people to distrust God and fear getting close to Him. In the Book of Job, Job wrestles with these questions and tries to understand the reasons why he suffers so much. There is great mystery connected with suffering that none of us can understand.

A third obstacle to knowing God can come from poor relations with our parents and/or authority figures. Our experience with these significant and influential figures can leave us with a distorted or dysfunctional image of a father or mother. These distortions can then heavily influence our relationship with God our Father.

From my experience, both as someone who has been healed in this area and as a prayer minister, I believe it is essential to identify the root of where our image of God formed, good or bad, so that we can minister directly in that place. And for some of us, the healing of this relationship may take time because the distortions can be rooted so deeply. This healing is worth pursuing, because through the power of the Holy Spirit, amazing freedom can result.

I grew up in the church, and as a teenager, I dedicated my life to Christ around a fire one summer at camp. To be honest, for many years I didn't feel any different. I was like an unplugged toaster. Only after experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit did everything about the fullness of being a Christian fall into place. This included my relationship with Jesus and God the Father.
      "And God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God's deep secrets." —I Corinthians 2:10
The presence of the Holy Spirit in my life also made me aware of the many places where I needed healing. My own healing in the area of how I viewed God brought remarkable transformation to my life. As a result of this marvelous healing, everything changed for me, including my own perception of myself; as a beloved child of God.

During this time of year, I am awestruck with wonder of God's love for us, and the fact that He came to earth through the birth of Jesus Christ. He did not come as a fire-breathing angry God ready to punish the human race, but rather He came in the most weak, vulnerable, and defenseless form: a baby. He came to dispel all of the lies that the enemy had perpetrated, to bring freedom and salvation.
      Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through Him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can't see. Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together.

      For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ's blood on the cross. This includes you and me, who were once far away from God. We were his enemies, separated from Him by our evil thoughts and actions. Yet now He has reconciled us to Himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, He has brought us into His own presence, and we are holy and blameless as we stand before Him without a single fault. —Colossians 1:15-22, paraphrased
May God bless you, and all whom you love, this Holy Christmas season!

Linda Strickland Oct/Nov/Dec 2012 Issue
Linda Strickland is CHM's Associate Director of Ministry and Assistant to Judith MacNutt.