Am I in the Right Place?: Finding Satisfaction in Service

Service.

If you’re a student at Dallas Baptist University, that word made you either jump to attention or roll your eyes. On top of the constant mantra of “servant leadership” that appears in every class (literally, in every syllabus), the most common DBU scholarship requires a certain number of service hours to be performed every semester. The idea of service is reinforced so often that we sometimes feel like we never stop serving.

When I was a freshman, I, like everyone else on that coveted scholarship, was required to pick a service off a list of approved locations and roll with it for an entire semester. Little Catherine took one look at that list (which rivaled War and Peace for length), was immediately overwhelmed, and quickly devolved to looking specifically for service projects involving children. I had been working with kids in my home church ever since I outgrew childcare myself, so I figured that was the best choice. I picked the first one that promised transportation and showed up with as little pomp and circumstance as possible.

It was alright the first week. I went back a few more times, then got some friends (who had put off service hours as long as possible) to go with me.

Nothing changed for two-and-a-half years. Everything was exactly the same… except, that is, for my morale and attitude.

Maybe I’m more adventurous than I thought I was. Maybe I lost my touch. Maybe the kids’ stories made me too sad. Whatever it was, by the middle of my junior year, I was so discouraged that I actually didn’t get enough hours because I skipped service so many weeks. I’m one of those students who doesn’t skip class unless I physically cannot get there (yes, I’ve gone to work with a migraine), so that only made the discouragement worse.

The Bible encourages us over and over to not give up: “Do not be afraid, and do not be discouraged,” Joshua 1:9 says in one example, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (NIV). It’s hard to be discouraged when you can see God working in your life or in the life of someone you’re serving. Yet there I was, watching God work through my friends while I watched on the sidelines. It wasn’t the way things were supposed to be, but I felt like I was in the wrong for feeling this way.

This jumble of emotions and worries was what came out of my mouth one day while I was cooking dinner and conversing with a friend. Somehow, he understood enough of that spiel to offer me an alternative, and because I was short on hours, feeling guilty about it, and curious about the idea of working with adults, I jumped on it.

If you want fuller details on what happened after that, read my previous blog on the subject here. For now, suffice it to say that I discovered I’m much more at home in homeless ministry than children’s ministry (ironic, no?), and I’ve been soaring above my service-hours requirement ever since.

Here’s the thing, folks: attitude is everything when you go to serve in the name of Christ, but there’s more to it than that. Look at Romans 12:3-8, which points out that since “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us,” everyone should use his or her specific gift to accomplish what God has sent him or her to do, not try to do something that is meant for someone else. With a new season of life came a new purpose, and I wish I had discovered that earlier.

Maybe you’re in a place of confusion today. Maybe you’re not getting the same joy out of a service you used to love. Maybe you feel like God is calling you somewhere “not here.” Listen, friend: Commitment is good, healthy even, but if God is telling you that you are needed elsewhere, listen to Him. The most amazing things happen when God tells you to leave everything you know and you obey.

Your heart isn’t always right; the human heart is fallen, and Satan loves to trick us into thinking we’re listening to God when we’re really listening to ourselves. But if you’re trying your best to have a good attitude toward service and you still come home feeling like you’re wasting time, it may be that God has a different place for you.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain,” reads 1 Timothy 6:6—gain for the Kingdom of God. Be content in your service, and you will find that it comes a whole lot easier.

Written by Catherine

Image credit

Advertisements

Why Do We Love Movies that Make Us Cry?

Why is it that we humans willingly submit ourselves to the pain of a sad story? We spend hours watching movies like A Walk to Remember and reading books like The Fault in our Stars, even if we already know the plot is going to end badly. Moreover, tragic characters themselves seem to have a certain appeal. We find ourselves secretly rooting for their redemption. Many times I have caught myself longing for the kind of story line that I have just mentioned, and it got me to thinking, “why?”

Tragedy has a special power over us. Writers create these stories because they know they can influence our emotions in ways that comedy may not. The most common tropes of tragedy – the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or the character that is beyond salvation – leave every fiber of our being screaming out for something better, something happier. Because we are created in the image of Christ, the idea of perfection is ingrained deep within us. Our world is fallen, but our souls cry out for more. When we see something sad, we subconsciously know it isn’t meant to be like that; it’s a result of the eternal striving for heaven that God created in us. The typical reaction to tragedy is twofold: usually, we cry or get upset first because the inherent wrongness of the situation irks us to the core. Then, we seek change. We plot how the story might have turned out if the characters had just done this or that instead. For this same reason, when we do watch happy movies or read happy books, we feel a sense of satisfaction when the story has a happy ending.

The wonderful thing about literature, including tragedy, is that it mirrors the real world. However, in the real world, we do actually have some power to create change. There are some things that we simply cannot conquer in our fallen world, like death and sin, but we, unlike fictional characters, have the freedom of choice. We can learn from the mistakes made by these characters so that we don’t have to make them ourselves. This is why I think we continually submit ourselves to tragedy: it can inspire change. When a writer brings a problem to our attention that leaves tears running down our faces, we can and should do something about it.

Written by Taylor Hayden

Image credit

Vashti’s Rejection

“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes” (Esther 1:19, New International Version.) For those unfamiliar with the book of Esther, this verse records a conversation between King Xerxes and one of his officials. After literal weeks of feasting with his friends, “drinking with no restrictions” and gorging himself on whatever forms of leisure and entertainment he deemed relaxing, King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, for one more favor. I can only imagine that this was likely the request which broke the straw on the camel’s back.

Picture one’s husband inviting his bros over for a football-watching party, not unlike a typical Superbowl bash. He informs you that there will be lots of soda, chips, yelling, and maybe a little rough housing. Most wives aren’t opposed to their man having a few friends over; however, what if he asked to have hundreds of friends over for multiple months, just to party it up? I’d like to meet the wife who would agree to this, ask her what is wrong with her, and then beg that she not subject herself to such juvenile carryings on. Realistically, Vashti probably didn’t have a choice about whether her husband could take over their palace with a myriad of friends to do as he pleased, but I assume that she had a few opinions on the whole ordeal. It seems natural, then, that when King Xerxes issued a formal request for her to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles,” that she scoffed and refused to be paraded around like a trophy wife. Right on, sister! You’re a literal queen, and you shouldn’t stoop to becoming mere eye candy for a bunch of drunken lads.

As a child and an adolescent, when we went over this story in a church or small group setting, there was a popular and understood consensus: Vashti was a bad wife for refusing her husband’s request. She, as Xerxes’ officials also claimed, set a bad example for women everywhere and caused “no end of disrespect and discord.”

I’ll be honest with you: I think that outlook is missing the whole point.

You see, Xerxes, at that time and in that state of mind, was not being a good husband. Scripture clearly states that he was drunk beyond reason and had been in that state for some time. The Bible asks us to be sober-minded and watchful in all that we do; considering that the king was quite the opposite of sober-minded, it stands to reason that the requests he was issuing weren’t good ones. However, that’s not even the worst part.

It becomes particularly infuriating a few verses later when he banishes Vashti, the queen and his wife, from ever stepping foot in his presence. It is never fully explained if they obtained a complete divorce, but either way, Xerxes immediately started looking for a new wife. He held a nation-wide beauty contest to find the prettiest replacement because who cares about Vashti, right?

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst forms of human rejection one could possibly receive.

As I read this passage a few days ago, a new thought occurred to me. Keep in mind that, up until this point, the only sermon I’ve ever heard regarding Esther chapter one was in agreement with drunken Xerxes: “Bad Vashti. Bad example. Don’t be like her. Comply!”

The thought that came to me was this: God would never treat us like Xerxes treated Vashti. The king made an unholy request of his queen while he wasn’t thinking clearly. Not only that, he didn’t so much as offer her a second chance. In his rage, he dismissed her forever and went on a quest to find someone better.

Although God may make difficult and unforeseen requests of us, He does not ask us to do anything wrong. Don’t mistake me, Christianity is uncomfortable. If we’re walking as Jesus did, we will likely be urged out of our comfort zone constantly. The most peaceful part is this: when we don’t follow His commands, either knowingly or unknowingly, God does not reject us in return. As Martin Luther said, we can “sin boldly,” not because we are banking on forgiveness, but because we know we don’t have to walk in shame because of one, one hundred, or one million mistakes. Our God is the King, but He isn’t at all like King Xerxes. Like Vashti was to her husband, we are His bride, made to serve Him in holiness, rest in His protection, and delight in His grace.

Written by Karoline

Image credit

Glücklicher Reformationstag!

Nothing says “Happy Halloween” quite like black hooded figures chanting in a strange language, a creepy old castle, and runaway nuns. Well, maybe not the nuns, but all these things do have something in common with Martin Luther, and believe it or not, Martin Luther has something to do with Halloween. Christians are quick to dismiss Halloween as a holiday for heathens and unclean liberals, but next to Easter and Christmas, October 31 should be one of the most important anniversaries on the Protestant calendar.

The story starts with Luther as a lowly Augustinian monk. Luther joined the monastery after a near-death experience with a thunderstorm prompted him to make an irretractable vow to Saint Anne to spare his life at the price of becoming a monk. This is why we don’t play in lightning, kids; you might end up selling all your possessions and donning a wicked-awesome hooded robe while you recite rhythmic Latin prayers. Anyway, as a monk, Luther had time to study Scripture and noticed discrepancies between the actions of the Church and the actual commandments of the Bible. For instance, the Pope cannot take money from people in exchange for the pardoning of sins. The Church should not be the biggest oppressor of the poor. The realization of the rampant presence of these atrocities prompted Luther to nail a list of 95 complaints against Christian leaders to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany on—you guessed it—October 31, 1517.

Stopping the story here would be like offering a bowl of carrots to trick-or-treating children: misleading and highly disappointing. Luther is most famous for helping reform Christian theology, but that is only a fraction of his story.

Despite furious backlash from the Pope and his goonies (is that sacrilegious to say?), Luther stuck by his claims and successfully got himself excommunicated and outlawed, which meant anyone could beat, rob, or kill him without any legal consequences. To protect Luther, a friend hid Luther in his (creepy, old) castle under the alias of Knight George. When Luther got bored playing hopscotch and skittles—which are actual medieval pastimes, look it up—he translated the New Testament into German, the common vernacular of the people.

Impressive as that was, Luther was determined to do more. He returned to Wittenberg where he spent the next decades of his life preaching the truth of the Bible, composing hymns, writing passionate books, penning history-altering laws, and occasionally helping Catholic-turned-Protestant nuns escape their convents and assimilate into normal society, usually by introducing them to suitable husbands. One of these runaway nuns was named Katarina, and the suitable husband Luther found for her was himself. Katie proved to be not only a faithful wife, but also a savvy business partner and exceptional encourager for Luther’s reoccurring seasons of depression. Without Katie’s support, the Reformation could have died after the translation of the Bible.

This is only a fraction of Martin Luther’s story, yet its implications for believers and non-believers today are too many to name. Luther was looking for an academic debate when he nailed his grievances, but what he got was a spiritual, social, and political revolution that deeply affects our lives. Luther’s translation of the New Testament empowered the masses to read the Bible, and the study of Scripture skyrocketed the literacy rate, which then in turn prompted the creation of universal education and boosted the economy. Luther’s relationship with Katie also radically shifted the cultural perspective on marriage and family. Gone were the days of celibate church leaders parading themselves as holier-than-thou. Women were given the potential to become spiritual leaders in their homes, and children found a new place of honor and discipleship.

Little actually changed in Germany on Halloween of 1517, but without the events of that day and the decades of radical transformation that followed, the world as of Halloween 2017 might be totally unrecognizable. So if you still want to hate Halloween, that’s fine. Somebody else can wear this fabulous Martin Luther costume. But do take a minute or two to learn something about Martin Luther and the Reformation because it matters to you as a literate Christian living in a country with free education and protected women’s rights. I think you’ll be surprised how important black hooded figures, creepy old castles, and runaway nuns are to your life.

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

The Bridezilla of Christ

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by someone else’s wedding.

If it wasn’t the pea-colored bridesmaid dress you were forced to wear (and purchase), then it was the evil seating arrangement that stuck you between your former significant other and her flirtatious sister. Maybe it was the delicious looking buffet that turned out to be completely vegan, or worst of all, the invitation you were promised but mysteriously never received. It’s not always the case, but nine times out of ten it feels as though most wedding horror stories originate from one single entity: a bridezilla. Many people have had their fair share of run-ins with bridezillas whose dream weddings have turned into nightmares. Even if you’re as fortunate as I am and have never personally known a bridezilla, you’ve heard the stories and seen the movies.

A bridezilla demands her way, refusing to sway from her personal preferences regardless of the cost. She bullies others into doing what she wants, and instead of apologizing, she offers empty excuses. Her mind is constantly changing, but she expects everyone to cater to her desires anyway. She is so focused on herself that she forgets about the feelings of her guests, the needs of her chosen wedding party, and even the groom to whom she is to be wed.

I’d now like to take this moment to remind you that one of the most prominent biblical images of Christ and the Church is that of a bride and a groom.

“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…” (Is. 54:5)

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband’…” (Hosea 2:16)

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2)

“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21:10)

This is an accurate illustration for more reasons than just the good that comes from a marriage relationship. The Church can be one heck of a bridezilla. If you can’t fathom that such a thing might be so, look back over that definition of a bridezilla one more time. Selfish. Demanding. Fickle. Spoiled. Needy. Ungrateful. Unfortunately, that can all describe the Bride of Christ. It’s enough to make any guest in the building flee in fear, and it can quickly drive away even the most God-fearing of saints.

Yet the Bridegoom still loves his bride. Oh, how he loves her!

Bridezilla as the Church may act, Jesus sees the hidden gems that we truly are. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If we think we’re rough around the edges now, remember where we were before Jesus was Lord of our lives. The condition we were in when he invited us to be his bride was worse than any bridezilla you’ll ever meet; we were the essence of hopelessness and death. Yet Jesus loves the Church, holds community with the Church, and fights on behalf of the Church.

For this reason, Church, we, too, must love the Church.

The realization that we as sinners are undeserving of Christ’ love is not shocking; neither is the realization that there is difficulty in loving the Body of Christ. All the same, if we love Jesus, we must love his bride. No matter how many mistakes she may make, if you slander or wound a bride, chances are, her husband-to-be is not going to respond positively to your actions. Though he may not condone her behavior, he will always come to the rescue of his bride. Why do we suppose that Jesus is any different?

If you’re struggling to love the Church, you aren’t alone. Sometimes the Bride of Christ looks more like the Bridezilla of Christ, and it hurts to love her. I’ve been there; love her through it. Other times, loving the Bride of Christ requires that you pull away from unmerited lies of unworthiness and shame and allow yourself to be swept up by the extended, earthly arms of the Lord, his Church. I’ve been there, too; you cannot love the Bride if you do not believe that you, yourself, are worthy of his love.

The ironic thing about bridezillas is that as bad as they can be, people go to the weddings anyway. True friends and family recognize the special nature of weddings and choose life-long love over temporary stubbornness. One glorious day, the Bridegroom will return for his Beloved and make all things new and pure and holy. Until that beautiful wedding day, stay strong, Christians; there will be no bridezilla in Heaven, only the precious Wife of the Lamb.

Written by Savanna

Image credit

In the Beginning

I was recently bitten by the content-creation bug. You know what I’m talking about—the one that’s drawing everyone and their dog (or goldfish or gerbil or hedgehog) to places like YouTube and Vine to make a living by creating videos and other online content. To me, that sounds like the dream life, so I decided to try it.

The question, of course, lay in where to start. I had to rein myself in a little bit and decide what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. To figure that out, I had to answer another question: Why am I doing this?

I knew I wanted to keep my faith in the open, but we all know the dangers of that nowadays. Christians aren’t favorably portrayed, as we used to be, in modern media. It’s much easier to make “Christian” music or write a “Christian” blog and separate ourselves from the world.

The thing is, we’re not supposed to do that.

How do I know? Lots of ways. Take the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19, emphasis added).

Or John 17:14-19, where Jesus notes that neither he nor his disciples are of this world but are nevertheless in it. Verse 15, in particular, catches my eye: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” David Mathis wrote a great article on why this passage (and the phrase “In the world but not of the world” that was coined from it) means not that Christians should fall away from the world, but that we have been sent into it on a mission. I’ll let you read his article for more elaboration.

So we’re supposed to go into the world, avoid the advances of the evil one, and impact those around us. Cool. How does creativity tie into that? Dear reader, I’m so glad you asked.

When God created the world, he also created man: Adam; we all know him. He also created woman, Eve, when he realized one human wasn’t enough. Genesis 2:19-20 records one of the first things God told this man to do: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.”

Writers, how many of you have struggled to find the perfect name for one single character? Yeah, this verse makes me cringe, too.

Remember also that God made Eve as a “suitable helper” (v. 20) for Adam (v. 20). She was made creative, too. Adam wasn’t meant to create by himself; he created in the pattern of God and with his fellow human.

So, what does this mean for us?

  1. Creativity is a built-in part of each one of us; it is God-given and it has a purpose.
  2. Creativity brings us closer to the Lord. God could have named all the animals himself and just told Adam what they were; instead, he let Adam do it with him, and whatever name Adam came up with was the one God ordained. It was a moment of trust and respect that will probably never be replicated in our post-fall existence.
  3. Our creative thoughts are not meant to be kept to ourselves. We’re supposed to use them for what God has told us to do, for the benefit of others.

When we use the materials, ideas, and abilities God has given us to bless others, we’re showing that we appreciate all those things—and that we love the One who made them. Any creator can tell you that the act of creation is an unparalleled experience. I believe this is why.

That’s not to say that everything you create has to be some praise and worship experience. Everything I just pointed out is simply describing the origin of creativity and the high standards set before us. For the Christian, it will shine through unexpectedly and subconsciously.

I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with my creative abilities yet. Right now, I’m just determined to be as genuine as possible. For me, being genuine means being loving, caring, passionate, discerning, and respectful, as Christ himself is. That holds true if I’m uploading my personality to YouTube or if I’m living a social-media-free existence. I want to live in such a way that, no matter what I’m doing, people see the difference in me and wonder why it’s there.

As the old saying goes, you can be anything you want to be—and the Christian label (or lack thereof) shouldn’t change the message we as Christians carry. As long as you are exercising the love, compassion, and attitude of Christ, you have the power in Him to create something truly amazing and life-changing.

Written by Catherine

Reprinted with permission from this blog.

Image credit: Kā Riley

Letter to the Opinionated Writer

The Great Gatsby, written by the infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the lonely tale of a wealthy man: known by everyone, yet never truly seen. Nick Carraway, a pathetic lowlife who moves to New York in hopes of gaining popularity and fame, narrates the story, which is kind of unfortunate because his character is really annoying. At the beginning of the story, Nick goes to dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, the novel’s most high-maintenanced and selfish character. She and her husband, Tom, live in a rich neighborhood. Nick obviously doesn’t belong, but he is lucky because, by the grace of God, he is introduced to Daisy’s golfer friend, Jordan Baker, who Nick quickly titles “Lady Friend of the Week Award,” yet he never actually verbally admits to it. One would think that their acquaintance would be the highest point of action at this particular dinner party because, hello, he’s Nick, and she’s supposedly gorgeous and richer than rich can get. But then, Nick finds out that Tom is having an affair with some side-chick, Myrtle Wilson, and everybody knows about it, including Daisy. Still, nobody directly addresses the issue with Tom, and instead, they all continue about their extremely awkward, I-can-literally-see-the-tension-in-this-room kind of evening. Weird, right?

Then, a couple days later, Nick goes with Tom to visit this Myrtle character, which is extremely uncomfortable for everyone, and Fitzgerald really shouldn’t have put the experience in his book at all, but then again, he’s from Minnesota, so he’s probably accustomed to weird circumstances, don’t yâ knōw? Anyways, eventually, Nick, Daisy, Tom, and Señora Baker all end up at the most extravagant party, hosted by Mister Jay Gatsby himself. Well, it says that he hosted it, but literally nobody sees the guy until he very creepily and gently whispers “well, hey there, Old Sport,” into the ears of Nick, who is spending time with his “friend,” Jordan. Then, he asks to speak with Jordan alone, which one would think would leave Nick feeling pretty jealous because, if Nick and Gatsby were to get into a fist fight, we all know Jay would sock the “k” right off of the end of Nick’s incredibly unoriginal and over-used name. However, when Jordan leaves, Nick transfers all of his emotional energy onto Daisy, who we all know he secretly, but unadmittedly, has a crush on, and it’s like Jordan doesn’t even exist until she comes back to tell Nick about a secret love that Gatsby and Daisy used to share, which blows everybody’s mind and definitely gives the readers clarity on why Daisy acts like a complete and utter psychopath. And that’s pretty much all of the most important parts of the story, or at least, the only ones worth reading.

The end.”

Well, kind of.

It’s at least the end of a terribly long, and border-line offensive, example of a highly opinionated summary of Fitzgerald’s most popular piece of art. That’s right, the information above is in no way factual, practical, or acceptable for use by any of you hooligans looking for information to include in your own book reviews (I’m talking to you, highschoolers; just READ the book). In fact, the only purpose for the nonsense written above is to prove this point: personal opinions, while valuable and worth having, seldom have a place in academic writing. Even if one might think that Nick is the bratworst*, that information is not, in anyway, relevant to the events that actually took place in the story, unless the author specifically said so. Trust me, there are times when I, too, want to rip a story to shreds and tell my professor exactly what I thought about every character and event that took place, but I can guarantee you that there isn’t a single professor on this green earth who would have accepted the work above as a book review of The Great Gatsby without handing it back with some pretty stern, probably red, opinions of his or her own written on it, too. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place when opinions are acceptable, even welcomed, in academic writing. Most professors love hearing about their students’ personal thoughts and perceptions of things; however, when those are what they’re after, they make it abundantly clear in their instructions. So, when you’re unsure if you should include personal opinions in your writing, look to your assignment sheets, syllabi, and Writing Center family to help you determine if doing so would be appropriate. In fact, consider taking an even bigger leap and ask your professor directly! Doing so will not only clarify what he or she wants, but it shows that you truly care about your work and want to succeed.

So, to the opinionated writers who have stuck with me this long, know that you are not alone. We’ve all been there, and it really is difficult to completely eliminate opinions from certain assignments, but it is possible, and the UWC is here to help.

* Brat•worst, (brätˌwurst): a play on words. Taking from the extraordinary vocabulary of The Karoline Faith Ott.

Written by Haley

P.S. I promise The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, and I respect Fitzgerald’s work with all of my being.

P.S.S. I have nothing against Minnesotans. All good things here.

Image credit