ReSolution: Something to Show For It

Another year, another set of resolutions – promises we make ourselves that we swear to uphold for as long as possible. Isn’t that always the case for most of us? With the coming of a fresh new year, it seems like we can’t help ourselves from declaring to the world that “this is it, it’s going to be my year; I will make good on all my past mistakes and make my future better.” We tend to promise things like losing weight, decreasing debt, learning new things, or going to church more frequently – and whether you decide to go to a non-denominational church in Dubai or otherwise, all these “promises” boil down to one thing, and that is an urge to improve one’s self.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with self-improvement – and granted at times it can even help in the long run – but it’s also important to note that there are bigger things out there as well. While concentrating on one’s self seems like a natural thing to do, why not consider making promises this year that can help others instead?

Look around you – at your friends, your family, your neighbourhood, and your community – and try to spot things that need to be done. Ask yourself, “How can I help?” Or better yet, ask yourself “What breaks my heart?”

This is undoubtedly a difficult thought to muster an answer for, but the moment you do, you start to realize that everyone around you has needs of their own that you can’t do anything about and that you can’t fix all the wrongs of the world; while it may be disheartening to know that you can’t help everyone, take comfort in the fact that you can help someone. It might not be much, but there’s a reason why people don’t help as much as they can in the first place – because helping takes time, and money, and resources – some of which people deem to be better off spent on themselves. This is where self-improvement becomes a bit of an issue.

The problem with us humans is that we have an inherent sense of self-preservation; we’re naturally wired to think of ourselves and our kin more than we think of others. That’s not to say this trait is all bad, but it’s not all good either – because (and this according to Andy Stanley) “whoever devotes themselves to themselves will have nothing but themselves to show for themselves“, and the unfortunate truth is that most of the time we – as we are, no matter the degree of self-improvement we engage ourselves in – simply are not enough.

In order to follow Jesus, we must learn to discard this aspect of our humanity. Instead of always searching for self-improvement, instead learn to engage yourself in self-denial – that is, deny your urges that center on yourself and learn to submit yourself to another’s command. Jesus’ to be exact.

Giving to gain life

Why, then, submit yourself to Jesus? This is because he offers you a way to save you from yourself – he can pull you out of that seemingly infinite cycle of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Luke 14:25-27 says:

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

To be his disciple (and true follower), one had to be able to deny themselves; they had to submit themselves to Jesus and allow him to call the shots of their lives. Those in the crowd who followed him realized there was more to discipleship than simply following him around; it was also about allowing Jesus to be the supreme authority in their lives. By doing that, they gave their lives to something bigger – something more than themselves. It gave them purpose. By giving their lives to Jesus’ cause they gained more life in themselves – giving them fulfilment no amount of self-improvement could ever achieve.

Live a life of purpose

Purpose is an important aspect of life as it drives us to an end goal other than ourselves. It gives us something to do that actually matters. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get caught up in the troubles that come with daily life; most of the time we concern ourselves with no more than our bodies and our finances. In the end, though, if that’s all that we’ve accomplished then we’ve accomplished nothing.

Finding our purpose, helping others who are already helping, and making the world a better place isn’t so difficult as long as we overcome the initial fear of stepping out of our comfort zone. We must deny ourselves and instead pursue other goals. As Andy Stanley stated:

“If you devote yourself to more than yourself, you will have more than yourself to show for yourself.”

So this year, consider altering your new year’s resolution to improve those around you rather than focusing it on yourself. You’ll find that it’ll give you more self-satisfaction in the long run.

Remember: giving life begets it.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution (For Real This Time!)

For better or for worse, it’s the start of the New Year, so it comes as no surprise that people are bound to have made their resolutions by now.

This practice holds true for people everywhere, and whether you’re a Christian from a church in Dubai or otherwise – you’ve probably promised to yourself that you’ll turn over a new leaf or engage yourself in new activities. Whether it’s going to the gym, saving money, or making new friends, one thing remains the same no matter the wish – the unfortunate truth that very few people actually carry these promises out for as long as they’d initially envisioned them.

According to a study by John Norcross and his colleagues, 50% of the population makes a new year’s resolution annually, but why is it that only a chosen few are able to carry them out to completion? Is it simply because most people are too lazy? The answer actually lies in another study, this time by Timothy Pychyl – he argues that some people are simply unable to change their already established habits and that new year’s resolutions are a way for people to try to do so; he says that it is a form of “cultural procrastination” – an effort to reinvent one’s self.

In short, it’s a wish everyone has about themselves and their future that they want to turn into a reality.

Resolutions are a way for people to tell themselves that they’re going to regulate what happens in the coming year; it’s their way of mentally setting certain events in stone. The future is uncertain and by telling themselves they’re going to reach a certain goal or induce a certain event, they feel as if they can exert (even a minimal amount of) control on what will happen to them in the future.

But before enforcing them, it’s important to choose the best resolution for one’s self first. Short – term goals that provide instant gratification are well and good, but long – term goals that give bigger benefits are leaps and bounds better. (Setting a standard for ourselves is of course important – if we don’t’ someone else will.) Far too often we choose the quick way, the easy way – “good” gets in the way of God’s best most of the time. We get so caught up in forcing change in our lives that we think will be  for the better that we easily forget that God has a plan for us.

How God can help you reach your goals

First off, make sure that your goal is actually attainable. Make them SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – this makes it so that you can “track your progress” as you fulfil your resolution, thus fuelling you to do even better as time goes by and progress is made. (This will keep you going throughout the year and prevent you from dropping your resolution in the first month or two as others do.)

The next step is to release all of your anxiety and doubt; place your trust in God that he will get you to where you want to go. After all, he can only help those who want him to; people must involve themselves in the process. Remember – he began his good work, you, and he will surely finish it. (See Philippians 1:6.) We as humans tend to see the problems of our past (and thus want to change it), but God instead sees the potential in our future.

Lastly, lead a life of purity and blamelessness – undoubtedly a tall order for most.

Philippians 1: 9-10 says:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”

But what can it do for you? Well, purity brings clarity so you can see what’s best for you both in the short – term and the long – term. On the other hand, blamelessness can bring peace and inner freedom, allowing you to do whatever it is you want without having to worry about your conscience and keep up pretences.

Always keep in mind that God is a master, and he always makes masterpieces – you included. But, it takes a little time.

Destination Here: The Road to The Perfect Wish

It’s almost the New Year, and we all have plans and wishes for ourselves and those near and dear to us; all of them for good. It’s definitely a good thing, but did you know that there could be a much better plan for you? It’s not you who’s going to be doing the wishing and planning – God is, and there’s no person who has a better plan for your life than God.

If you go to an evangelical Church  in Dubai or anywhere else in the world but have missed this particular lesson, then it’s time that you brushed up about how perfect God’s plans are for us’ it’s just that our plans are in the way.

Being Careful What You Wish For

There’s definitely nothing wrong with wishing. In fact, wishing is the proof that God has indeed created us, as it’s a way, other than praying, that we make our Creator know of our desires. But sometimes, our wishes are not a reliable proof of what we truly want, as there are times when we got what we’ve been wishing for, only for us to find out that it’s not just what we don’t want, but the exact opposite of what we would like to have, be in or with, or become. But hey, it can’t be that bad; the wish can just be undone; right? Well, sometimes you just can’t, and that is why we need to be careful what we wish for.

Or better yet – instead of being careful of our wishes, why not let God do the wishing for us? He is, after all, the one who knows us best – even better than we know ourselves. His wishes for us are neither whimsical nor fleeting; they are what’s best for us and we’ll never regret them, as their fulfillment is what God intends in our lives.

Fulfilling Wishes, Following Paths

Therefore, it’s only right that we leave the wishing up to God. But don’t think that He will just magically snap it into reality. As much as He can and would love to do that, the fulfillment of His desires for our lives require our participation. That means following the path He intends for us to follow.

The road God wants us to take is definitely not easy to walk on, but the destination, which is what we are meant to have, be with, and become, are more than worth every difficulty along the way. And with guidance from The One who has created the path we are meant to take, then the right plans and wishes will come true and we will lead the best lives – the ones we should be living.

With the New Year fast approaching, there is no better time to pray for the guidance of God so that His perfect plan can happen in our lives. But why wait for the New Year? Why not pray for it and, with His help, start making it happen now?

It’s Not What You Think: What Is Boxing Day?

There are no days of celebration between Christmas Day and New Year’s. It’s only right, as a week in between two festive days should be enough time to rest. That, however, is not true. Boxing Day

With such a name, it’s easy to think that Boxing Day is about two people knocking each other out. Thankfully, that’s not what it is. If you’re curious as to what the true meaning of Boxing Day is, whether you’re from the United States or a modern Christian church in Dubai, go ahead and read on.

British Beginnings

Because of its obscurity, not much is known about the true origin of Boxing Day. What is known, however, is that it was originally celebrated in Great Britain during the Middle Ages, and later on, in extension, in its colonies such as Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, Bermuda, New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

According to some historians, the day came about because servants had to work during Christmas Day but took the following day off. And before the servants went back to their respective families, as a sign of both goodwill and recompense, employers gave them gift boxes, thus the name of the holiday. Later on, Boxing Day became a holiday wherein people gave presents to mailmen, tradesmen, porters, and doormen who had worked for the previous year.

In addition, ever since 1871, the British government declared Boxing Day as one of the country’s bank holidays, which are days when government offices, the post offices, and as the name suggests, banks have a day off; making it a perfect day to recover from all that holiday festivities and be ready for work the next.

The First Martyr

Another possible theory for the name of the holiday is because long ago, there were boxes placed outside churches. They are where church attendees would leave coins for the poor. And on December 26, the day after Christmas, they were distributed to the needy. Fitting, considering that the 26th day of December is also the Feast of Saint Stephen. And while it may not seem that Saint Stephen is related to Boxing Day in any day whatsoever, save the fact that the day of his feast coincides with that of Boxing Day, it’s nevertheless interesting to look at his life and death.

During the days of the early Christian Church, Stephen was one of the seven deacons who were ordained by the apostles to look after widows and the needy. And aside from taking care of the less fortunate, Stephen’s lectures were delivered with so much wisdom and grace that the enemies of the early Church had a plot to kill him, which later on succeeded. His legacy, however, survives his death, as he has become one of the greatest examples of love for God and the impoverished.

Whether you celebrate Boxing Day or not, we wish a happy Boxing Day to you! May the lingering spirit of Christmas and today’s holiday fill you with cheer and give you a heart for our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Light of the World: Jesus Christ

The Christmas season is upon us, and inevitably, celebrations abound. It’s the one time of year where people can come together with their loved ones and enjoy the festivities, and no matter where they’re from – whether it’s from a non-denominational church in Dubai or a traditional church from wherever else – as long as the belief and joy in Jesus Christ’s birth is present, then fun and togetherness is all but guaranteed.

Unfortunately, this is not true for everybody. While Christmas is customarily known to be a joyous occasion, sometimes certain things prevent us from enjoying it to the fullest – oftentimes, these distractions even go as far as to detract us from the true meaning of Christmas – which is of course, the birth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

The Happening

Christmas can be both a wonderful and terrible affair depending on who you’re with, but that’s just the problem – it shouldn’t be that way. Ideally, this season should be enjoyable, after all, Jesus Christ brings everyone along. However, sometimes the moment we get together with our friends and family, instead of being ecstatic and looking forward to the time we’ll finally get to spend with them, we end up feeling like we have to “deal with them” instead.

Our supposedly joyous thoughts are clouded with the problems they’ve brought with them, how we can’t control their actions and prevent conflict, or even how they set expectations we can never meet. But if one looks closely, the problem actually lies in us ourselves – we’re the ones who bring up our own problems, we’re the ones who can’t control ourselves, and most especially – we’re the ones who set expectations others can’t meet.

That said, we have to learn not to center this event on ourselves and the people around us. We have to stop concentrating so much on what’s happening, but rather, we must focus our attention more on what happened – again, the birth of Christ – and its significance to the human race.

Centering Life on Jesus

By centering our life on Jesus instead of the scattered happenings around us, we end up centralizing on something stable; something that can be counted on. Jesus is hopeful, someone who can give us purpose; He takes away the fears we have. In addition, by centering our life on Him, Christmas becomes much brighter as we are reminded that he is for us, watching over us, celebrating with us.

The darker and more complicated things get, take comfort in the fact that we’re able to focus on the light of the world that makes a sensible difference in each of our lives.

At the start of the new testament, followers like Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus Christ. Curiously, John does not – not directly, anyway. Rather than describe his birth in detail, he describes its significance instead.

John 1:4-5 states that:
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Despite living in desperately rough times, John was able to see the light and never lose faith. Early on he was able to realize that Jesus was a kind of life that transcended the physical, which is supported by the following verses:

According to John 20:30-31:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus is the light

Again, Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas – not the people around us. He is the bright light in the darkness; no matter what we face – be it strong heart ache, extreme fear, or a deep depression – he will be there to guide us. And no matter how hard the world tries to envelop Him in darkness, He will always shine through; ready to give us hope and a reason to believe; He’s always there to listen to our prayers and He gives us reason to wake up each day and take that next step.

Right in the Eye Part 5: Just Like Gideon

Everybody wants to be extraordinary at what they do, whether it’s writing, business, or ministering for a non-denominational church in Dubai. Not a lot of people, however, want to be extraordinary men and women. It’s understandably difficult, as being extraordinary at what you do and being an extraordinary person are completely different things.

Thankfully, God is always more than willing to empower us and turn us into extraordinary individuals who can make a positive impact on the lives of those around us.

Extraordinary Reasons

But why be extraordinary in the first place? Why go the extra mile so that you can excel at everything you do and how you treat others if you can live comfortably despite refusing to do so anyway? After all, it is a lot of hard work and hassle to put a lot more effort in what you do and who you are. That’s because if you have a Christian worldview, then you should believe that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God. Since we have been made that way, it’s only right that we achieve our full potential and treat each other the best way we can.

It’s not an easy feat, but as what was previously said, with God’s help, it can be done. That is very much true in the life of Gideon.

Me, A Mighty Warrior? Yes!

Gideon lived in the time when the Israelites were being oppressed by the Midianites, people who lived close to Israel. This oppression, which was so severe because the Midianites ruined crops and killed livestock, was allowed by God to happen because the Israelites were being unfaithful, as they were worshipping the same false idols this enemy of theirs has.

The only one who can save God’s people from this scourge is Gideon. God came to him, called him a great and mighty warrior, and told him that he was chosen to free the Israelites from the Midianites. Gideon, however, did not believe God, as he was a weak man from the weakest clan of the weakest tribe. But after asking God for signs and three miracles, he obeyed God, fulfilled what God has called him as – a great and mighty warrior, and destroyed the Midianites.

Just Like Gideon

There is no doubt that Gideon’s story is amazing; don’t you wish that you can be just as amazing as him? Well, you can. Just like Gideon, no matter how many and great your flaws may be, you can be extraordinary with God’s help.

If he, a weak man from the weakest clan of the weakest tribe in all of Israel, was a great and mighty warrior, then we can also be great in the things we choose to do. No matter lowly we think of ourselves are, through His grace and power, we can be the greatest versions of ourselves.

We were made to be extraordinary, just like Gideon, and just like the one true God who created us. So, what are you waiting for? Don’t start being extraordinary tomorrow; start now.

Winter in the Desert: Christmas in Dubai

Contrary to popular belief, people in the Middle East also celebrate Christmas, especially in Dubai. This is because this beautiful and economically powerful city in the Middle Desert is full of professionals who came from different parts of the globe, and they have brought their Christmas traditions with them. This phenomenon has caused a melding of the different holiday customs and practices, making Dubai’s Christmas experience unique.

The malls, the hotels, and most importantly, the modern Christian churches in Dubai all exude the season’s warmth, and it does so in ways that are completely different from the rest of the world.

Dubai Winter Festival

First and foremost would be UAE’s most famous event during the Yuletide season – the Dubai Winter Festival. Already in its fourth year, this is the go-to event if you want to celebrate with thousands of fellow holiday lovers like you, anything and everything there is about Christmas. So if you and your family want to meet Santa Claus in the flesh, experience ice skating, engage in snowball fights, marvel at the giant Christmas tree display, and watch Peter Pan’s Christmas adventure, the Dubai Winter Festival would be perfect for you.

Christmas Markets

Whether you like it or not, and whatever your moral standpoint you have towards it, it’s undeniable that shopping will always be a part of Christmas. And in Dubai, there are so many Christmas markets for people who want and need to buy stuff for the holiday celebrations. There’s the Atlantis Festive Village and ARTE at Time Square Centre. Meanwhile, for those who would love to have fresh and organic produce on the Christmas table, there is the Ripe Festive Market at Festive Zabeel Park and Ripe Food & Craft Market and Al Barsha Pond Park.

Christmas Brunches And Trees

A lot of people who celebrate the holidays have dinner on Christmas Eve. In Dubai, however, Christmas brunches are the in thing.  And while you can have the Christmas brunch in your own home, you can choose to have it in many of Dubai’s fine dining restaurants.

Another staple to the Christmas tradition would have to be the Christmas trees.  And in Dubai, there are a lot of places where you can buy different kinds of Christmas trees, whether you go for natural or synthetic.

The C Word

As what has been evident in previous paragraphs, Christmas, unlike in other Middle East countries, is something that is not only openly mentioned, but also openly celebrated. In fact, there are many Christmas customs and practices that many of the people who live in the city, especially the expatriates, practice.

This holiday celebration, however, is a very secular one, as any religious aspect of the holiday cannot be put on display in any public establishment. This is because even though there is no prohibition on the practice of religion, there is still that lingering cautiousness of the people to not offend anyone of a different religion.

Nevertheless, the important thing is that despite the lack of displays of Christmas cheer that are rooted on the Christian faith and the overabundance of secular holiday traditions, there is that sense of harmony and cheer within Dubai, most especially within the expatriate community.

Each country celebrates Christmas differently, and Dubai is no exception. The way it is being observed in such a diverse city is secular due to necessity, but that shouldn’t mean it can’t and shouldn’t mean anything deeper than just shopping and mealtimes – the fact that the people of Dubai can live together in peace all year round is proof of that.