Posts

3 Ways to Shield Your Mind

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

Every day, we are bombarded with information that’s readily available at our fingertips. From the TV, social media, and other fora, it is next to impossible to shield one’s self from the swirling voices surrounding us. To make matters worse, it can be difficult to adequately filter what information we allow ourselves to consume even when we make a mindful decision to do so.

However, I’ve learned that it’s vital to curate what I allow my mind to be exposed to, as the information I consume shapes my thought processes and perceptions in life.

For instance, when I worked on human trafficking issues at my job, I developed a network of friends, both professional and personal, who were experts in or passionate about these issues. I read articles, essays, attended conferences, and wrote research papers on the subject.

I also aligned myself with organizations such as A21 and participated in “walks for freedom”. I even wrote poetry on human trafficking. In summary, I was fully invested. This passion, which eventually led to me being an expert in my organization, would not have developed if I had not intentionally fostered its growth in all areas of my life.

As Christians, many of us long to be passionate about the things of God. Our desire is to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). We want to think about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). If that’s what we desire, shouldn’t we be ready to make sacrifices to build a life that is conducive for our passion for God to grow uninhibited?

What does this look like? Personally, no matter how hard I try to customize the news topics I receive on Google or Apple news, the curated result always leaves me a bit disappointed—and I find myself being drawn to articles that leave me depressed or upset after reading them. This doesn’t even include the way social media has the propensity to suck us into a seemingly endless supply of information that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to engage with through its algorithms and auto-play functions.

So how do I keep my mind pure and free so I can stay focused on God? How do I make Philippians 4:8 a reality in my life?

I wish I could say that I have it all sorted out, but alas, I am still a work in progress. However, I have found three effective ways to be more mindful of what I am feeding my mind everyday:

1. Put on the right armor

I am a Christian, which means my body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Just as we eat healthy food for the sake of our physical bodies, we must also feed our minds the right food to keep it pure. The Bible reminds us what that food is—every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).

So, I try to start and spend my whole day with God—staying in constant communication and communion with Him. I read and study the Word daily. Sometimes I listen to Christian music while working. On social media, I follow a ton of inspirational speakers, Bible apps and devotions, so that’s what pops up on my feed. I pray while walking around from place to place, and I ask for God’s advice on issues I face as my day unfolds.

This fortifies me against invasive information more than any other measure I can think of. I find that when I seek to stay in communion with God, I spend my day thinking about Scripture—the things of God and how to apply them—leaving less room for other thoughts and information to take root in my mind.

2. Avoid the battles you can

I often consider the adage “garbage in, garbage out”, and choose to steer far away from gossip and slander on the news. I unfollow social media accounts and stay away from music, movies or TV shows that aren’t morally sound.

Instead, I find alternatives that serve as a respite from the mainstream. There is a huge library of Christian artists in every genre that produce high-quality, godly music that gives secular music a run for its money in terms of quality, creativity, and even “dance-ability”!

 

3. Find trusty comrades

Even though a lot of our interactions with others take place online these days, it’s important to develop strong friendships in person. After all, iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). So, I am careful with the type of friends I keep and limit my inner circle to those whose value system aligns with Scripture.

Recently, the Spirit was leading me to pray about a certain issue in my life, but I wasn’t really sold out on it. Then the next morning, my friend sent me a verse on the same issue I had a prompting to pray about! It helped reinforce the need for me to stay mindful of the issue and pray about it. I was grateful to have a friend who was willing to obey God’s leading to share that verse with me, thus keeping me focused on what God required of me in that moment in time (Proverbs 18:24).

In the same way, I try to make sure that in all my interactions with others, my words are filled with grace, and build and encourage others (Colossians 4:5-6, Ephesians 4:29). For me, it’s all about meeting people where they are at and letting God’s light shine through me so that they are drawn to Christ (Matthew 5:16)!

 

These three methods have helped me become tremendously mindful in streamlining and curating the sort of information I consume from day to day. I hope you’ll find them helpful as well. Above all, the most important measure or guide on who or what we should allow to influence our lives can be found in the Bible, so I hope you continue to dig deeper into God’s Word, even as I endeavor to do same.

What It’s Like to Celebrate Christmas Around the World

Ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated all around the world? What are some traditions we all have in common, and how do different countries add their own twist to certain customs?

This Christmas, we asked four of our contributors from different countries to share about the special customs and traditions that are part of their Christmas celebrations.

 

China: The Best Time to Share the Gospel

Written By Kim Cheung

 

 

 

When I was growing up in a small city in China, very few people knew what Christmas is or celebrated it. But in recent years, thanks to the rise of commercialism, it’s becoming trendy to celebrate Christmas. However, it’s merely an opportunity for the merchants to promote their goods, and for young people to date and have fun with friends.

Rather than enjoying family time and having delicious food (which we do on Chinese New Year), we’d take Christmas as a time to do evangelism. We still love Christmas because it’s a time for us to celebrate the best news in the world—the birth of Christ.

For my church, Christmas is a great opportunity to share the gospel with non-Christians. We would usually host an event on Christmas Eve in the church and prepare some performances, including Christmas songs, dances, and live shows.

The whole event normally lasts for two hours and there will be a short sermon on who Jesus is or why we celebrate Christmas after the performances. Preparations for this event often took a month or even longer, but the focus of the whole event is for spreading the gospel.

After that, some of us would head downtown (where many people go) to hand out gospel tracts. Christmas is the best time to do this since people would be more likely to be more open to hearing about the gospel and accepting Jesus as their Savior. These activities take up most of the night, and we’d go home super late on Christmas Eve. So in some ways, Christmas might be the most exhausting time of the year.

This year, crackdowns on Chinese churches have made it harder to host Christmas activities. Therefore, we need to be super cautious when we invite people to our Christmas Eve services and share the gospel on the streets. But no matter how tough the circumstances may be, we should still seize the opportunity to share the Good News. After all, we are doing this to please the Lord and not men.

 

Nigeria: Sharing in the Spirit of Generosity

Written by Debra Ayis

 

Growing up in a Christian family in Nigeria introduced me to many traditions associated with Christmas. From as far back as memory can take me, I remember Christmas being my favorite holiday of the year—maybe it was the food, the community, or the fact that I knew I would get a brand new custom-designed dress to mark the celebration.

Christmas was a huge affair. Though separate regions in the country celebrated it differently, it was a time of warmth, family, and friends, and of course celebrating Christ our Savior.

In north Nigeria where I was born, there’s a rich mix of Christian and Muslim households. My favorite tradition out of many was the custom of exchanging food with our Muslim neighbors.

To me, this tradition embodied the Spirit of Christmas—the spirit of generosity. It was normal to find families cooking and preparing delicacies days before Christmas, generous offices would provide an unfortunate cow for slaughter to share amongst its staff members.

Each household would carry their haul of meat to be fried, cooked and integrated into different meals such as jollof rice, fried rice, white rice and stew, pepper soup, meatpies, pumpkin stew called miyan taushe (soup for masa or rice cakes in English). There was also an abundance of drinks and snacks such as the zobo drink made from sorrel or roselle flowers, chin-chin, cakes, biscuits, and buns.

Come Christmas morning, kids would pour out of their houses like soldiers on a mission, bearing baskets and trays stacked with food in their parents’ most expensive ceramic and china serveware.

They would make their way to each non-Christian neighbor’s house and offer them a dish. As expected, the neighbors would receive the meal and hand the kids candy, money, or a present as a Christmas gift. After delivering the food, the kids would head back home, change into their very best clothes in honor of Christmas and proceed to church for the morning service.

Like most families, my family would return home after church service to receive a deluge of visitors or we would head out to visit relatives and friends for the day. To a lot of Nigerians and to me personally, Christmas is a wonderful time to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the year gone by and a time to be thankful for the gift of Christ, life, and community.

 

Australia: Santa Visits Down Under in Board Shorts and Flip Flops

Written By Madeline Twooney 

 

Christmas time in Australia was a special time of the year for me, especially as it takes place in the summer. Now that l live in Germany, l appreciate having a white Christmas, but l still miss spending Christmas Day relaxing by the pool in my “cozzie” (swimsuit) or making “sandmen” at the beach.

Every year, my mum decorated our house and the garden with wreaths and Christmas trees, as well as shrubs called Christmas Bush and festive lights.

A beloved tradition that really put me in the Christmas spirit, was sitting in front of the telly with my family to watch a live broadcast of a carol concert called Carols by Candlelight. Even though I had yet to give my life to Jesus at that point, we also attended our own carol service in church on Christmas Eve. Australians love to sing Christmas carols!

I love Christmas Eve, as it brings back childhood memories of me believing that Santa, wearing boardshorts and flip-flops, would be delivering my Christmas presents in the night while l slept. I would lay out cookies for him, as well as carrots for his six white “boomers”, or kangaroos, who pulled his sled.

On Christmas Day, our family opened presents in the morning and then we would go to church for a Christmas Day service.

At lunch time, our family and friends would join us for a Christmas meal, which we eat outside in the garden.

My dad would fire up the grill and we would have a “barbie”, with juicy steaks, marinated king prawns, and chargrilled lobster. We would eat them with cold salads and my absolute favorite dessert—the pavlova—which is a meringue-based dessert topped with whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruit.

After lunch and a nap, it’s pool time! We chill, swim, or have pool fights on floaties until the sun goes down around 10pm; it’s the perfect end to a perfect Aussie Christmas!

Now that I have relocated to Germany and also received Christ as my Savior, Christmas is a different affair for me. This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

 

America: A Bright and Festive Celebration for All

Written By Ross Boone

 

 

In the US, Christmas is celebrated as a national holiday—so it’s fun and heartwarming to see how the entire nation gets into the spirit of Christmas.

Shopping malls start pumping Christmas music into their stores pretty soon after Thanksgiving. And I love it. Christmas is a time for warm scarves, rosy smiles, being with family, snuggling by a fire, and of course all the presents—and it’s hard not to want to be infected by the spirit of it all.

When I was a child, one of my favorite traditions was when we’d get together with another family and drive around the neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights strung around houses and trees. Whenever we saw a house strung with Christmas lights we’d exclaim, “Ooh la la!”

Sometimes we’d see almost life-size nativity scenes outside of these houses or churches. These days, a lot more families are displaying blow-up Christmas balloons of Santa, reindeers, elves, presents, and even Disney characters in their front yards.

When I spot a block with a series of houses that are disproportionately brighter and more scintillating than the blocks around it, I assume dads are getting competitive!

This time of the year, a lot of people also watch Christmas movies. A couple of the ones my friends and I like are Home Alone (with MacCaulay Culkin) and Elf (with Will Farrell). I just watched The Polar Express with my nephews and nieces, which was based on a book we loved to read when I was their age.

I grew up in Denver, Colorado, which is in the middle of the US, but now I live on the south-eastern corner, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve celebrated Christmas in non-denominational churches, Presbyterian churches, Episcopal churches, and Anglican churches. And they’re all lovely.

I’ve recently been introduced to a new tradition in my church. It is called “Lessons and Carols”. It is an hour-long presentation of readings and songs. The readings are from the Bible and tradition, and they tell the stories that start with Genesis and leading up to Jesus’ birth. These stories are interspersed with related Christmas carols, and it is such a beautiful way to remind us of the real, and most important reason for the season, and to get excited about celebrating Jesus’ birth.

 

As you celebrate Christmas this year, may your hearts be warmed by the knowledge that regardless of the way we celebrate our Christmases, Jesus was born so that we may all be part of one big family in Him.

It’s Time to Re-Examine Why You Celebrate Christmas

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

We had barely entered the month of December when the Christmas lights went up in my new neighborhood. But it was the cheerful Christmas carols permeating the air each morning that was the icing on the cake for me.

The magical atmosphere filled not just my street, but everywhere in Manhattan—in stores, offices, restaurants, homes. In my home, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Aretha Franklin, and Irving Berlin crooned Christmas songs from my speakers, bringing every room to life.

Though the ambiance seemed to lend weight to the fact that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, I know that not everyone perceives it that way. For many, it’s a stressful, commercialized season of gift-giving, so much so that people forget the real reason for the season. Some others can’t share in the joy of Christmas as they do not understand what Christmas stands for, because they have different religious views or hold to no religion at all.

On my recent trip to China, I noticed a distinct absence of Christmas decorations or holiday spirit in the region I visited. The weather was warm, and the focus was on a different religion. It seemed like I had been transported to another reality.

During my stay, I found myself thinking less about Christmas. I didn’t stop praying, communing with God, reading my Bible, or anything like that. But I was no longer reading an advent devotional I had previously stumbled upon online.

That experience, along with my usual end-of-year reflective mood, got me asking myself some hard questions and re-examining my motives for the holiday season:

  1. Would I intentionally choose to honor the birth of Christ on a specific day if my culture did not do so?
  2. Since I was grateful for Christ’s sacrifice every day of my life, was it really necessary to get all worked up for a symbolic day?
  3. Is Christmas—as we know it in many parts of the world, especially the West—bringing honor to God?

Though my trip to China showed that I had the tendency to be influenced by the culture and environment I was in, it was precisely that realization that forced me to consider the true significance of Christmas and why I bothered to celebrate it.

The answer was obvious enough: If not for Christmas, there’s no hope for anyone of us. Christmas, like Easter, is a landmark event in the salvation story. If Jesus hadn’t humbled himself, taking the form of a feeble baby, experiencing weakness, trials, joys, and pains and eventually dying in our place, we would never have been reconciled with God. We would have nothing to live for and nothing to look forward to as we go through the challenges of life. And this is why I will always make it a point to celebrate Christmas, no matter where I am.

And though we can always express our thanksgiving for His sacrifice every day, it is a good practice to set aside a day to commemorate Jesus’ birth, reflect on what Christ’s birth signifies, and marvel at and worship Him.

Sure, we could get worked up at the way our culture celebrates Christmas today, which seems to strip the season of its true meaning. Instead of finding fault with the parties, family reunions, gifts and celebrations, however, how about reminding ourselves to be thankful that this same secular society allows us the opportunity to worship freely?

As Christians, we can choose to engage in thoughtful reflection on what it meant for God to send His only begotten son to become like you and me, just so man could be reconciled to Him (John 3:16-21).

So though I have my Christmas tree and lights up and have adopted some other traditions associated with Christmas, I am glad that this time around, I am more mindful of the reason for the season than I have been for years.

A Letter To My Future Self in 2027

Written By Debra Ayis, Nigeria

Dear Debra,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to you from the tail end of 2017, a perfect time in which I find myself reflecting on my achievements and failures and reviewing what the year has meant to me.

I believe I have grown a little this past year, graduating from a child in constant need of attention and milk to an adult ready to try some steak. But there’s so much I still need to learn, so I hope by the time you read this, you would have made progress beyond expectations. That you are continually learning not to be anxious, and to wholly and truly trust in God in all circumstances (Philippians 4: 6-7). That your faith drives the wheel and fear takes a backseat. That your decisions follow the path you believe God is leading you to take and not simply “logical” reasoning. You have done this in the past, so I am hoping you can continue to do this.

Remember to continue dreaming, striving, and putting your best into everything you do. But in that process, do not forget to enjoy the moment, and do not let delays and challenges draw you into a pit of despair and discontent. Always be content in the now, and be grateful with all God has blessed you in the present. No matter what the situation is.

Even if you are going through the greatest physical, mental, or spiritual battle you have ever faced, always remember what God has faithfully brought you through, even though it took longer than you had expected. Remember how you applied almost 100 times over several years to your dream job before you finally got a position in that organization? Remember how you never gave up, and how you kept up the faith and pushed forward despite what people said?

In the spirit of owning the moment, I hope you are happy in your own skin, remembering there’s only one you and God loves you just the way you are. You are the apple of His eye; He knitted you while you were in your mother’s womb and He loves you unconditionally. As you continue to endeavor to be more like Him, remember to let Him shine through the real you, and not a version constructed for society’s benefit.

I pray your faith in God has grown stronger by now. That you have indeed grown deeper in your faith. I hope that the zeal for God’s house has burned brighter and you have become an integral part of not only the church community, but of any community you find yourself. I trust you have had opportunities to open your arms and your heart to people. To host those who need a place to sleep, to open your home to church events, to volunteer with increased passion, and to build His house with joy and a thankful heart.

I hope you have been working hard, but still have time for friends and family. Have you attained a better balance in all aspects of life now? I know it’s been an uphill battle, but I hope you don’t give up.

Remember how you were so inspired by Paul’s accounts that you were fearless in sharing the gospel, especially during your school years? With all my heart, I pray that you are still stepping out of your comfort zone to do so. That you have moved past fears of rejection and found the courage to share the gospel with anyone God brings your way. Remember to let that light shine, remember that you are the salt of the earth, and remember the great commission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.

Above all else, remember to stay focused on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith, who willingly went to the cross to secure your salvation. Remember you have been bought with a price. Continue to live a life that aims to glorify God.

If you continue to do this, I am 100 percent sure you will turn out all right!

 

With much love,
Your younger self