Christmas Doesn’t Come From a Store

‘Twas the eve before Christmas

And all through our dwelling

The thrill of the season

Was growing and swelling

The lights were all shining

The presents were wrapped

And I and my sister

Peacefully napped

For in a few hours

We’d pack up our stuff

And head to my grandma’s

All bundled and muffed

On the short drive

Our excitement was mounting

For soon we’d eat food

Open presents, and do gifting

Nana met us with cheer

As she opened the door

And Papa placed parcels

By the tree on the floor

First we trooped to the table

To gobble and dine

On luscious food

Of most every kind

Then we all gathered

In the room by the fire

All bundled and snuggled

For the rest to transpire

My dad read the story

Of that first Christmas day

We listened intently

Then he asked us to pray

After the reading

Sister and I took the floor

To present our creation

That had been quite a chore

Clad in Dad’s shorts and oversized shoes

We enacted “Papa’s Adventures”

The tales of our grandpa

And his hilarious misadventures

The family all laughed

And poked fun in jest

We all were so happy

And we felt very blessed

Next was gift time

And I was oh so excited

We all gathered ‘round

The tree that was lighted

Presents were opened

And scattered around

The paper piled up

‘Til we couldn’t see the ground

We played with our toys

Until late into night

When our eyes grew heavy

And we fought sleep with great might

Then we packed up our car

And made the trek back

Each with our gifts

All stuffed in our sack

But it wasn’t the presents

That made that year good

It was the time with my family

And the joy of childhood

It’s been many years

Since that one special day

But it’s forever in my heart

And there it will stay

 

Written by Taylor Hayden

Merry Christmas from the DBU Writing Center!

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Father of Lights

James 1:17 reads “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” God has many names, but “Father of Lights” has been one of my favorites lately. I love the image it creates in my heart and the memories it evokes in my imagination. I love lights. They are extraordinarily important to me. When I think of who God is in my life, I often think of lights: a small candlelight flickering to life for a moment before being snuffed out and lost for years, then being suddenly drowned by the blinding light of the noonday.1

To explain what I’m trying to say, let me start at the beginning. My brother was a worship intern at a church, starting about six months before my first semester at DBU. The summer between high school and college, my family and I decided to visit this church to watch him lead worship. To put it gently, I was not on good terms with God at that point in my life. In fact, I’d scarcely ever been on good terms with God. In my heart, we were not friends; He was a presence I couldn’t get rid of even when I asked. The flickering candlelight of my faith had been snuffed out for so long I could hardly remember what it looked like.

When I walked into that church, something felt unfamiliar to me. I was no stranger to services at different churches, but there was something special here—something special about this worship. I didn’t exactly realize what that something was, but I felt it during one song in particular. The lyrics resonated with me in a way none ever had. I felt honest and true in worship for maybe the first time ever. I wanted to raise my hands, but I was afraid to look foolish. I scanned the room nervously to see if anyone was watching. To my relief, the lights were low—low enough that no one would notice one person raising her hands. I felt free; it was entirely new and wonderful.

Now, allow me to skip ahead a few months. First semester, freshman year, I took an Intro to Broadcast class. For this class, I had to volunteer twenty-five hours on a media project. Twenty-five is a lot of hours, and I was really freaked out at the idea of finding a media project where I could volunteer. I freaked out quite frequently in those days—mostly to my brother. His advice for this particular meltdown was to ask the Sound Guy* at our church (the same church I had visited that previous summer) if I could volunteer on the media team. The first words out of my mouth were, “Do you think he would let me?” To me, the media team was a well-assembled group of super individuals who, for lack of a better description, knew what they were doing with all that fancy equipment. They looked like superheroes to me, and I could hardly imagine joining their ranks. When I spoke to the Sound Guy about volunteering, he asked what kind of experience I had with broadcasting. My heart dropped into my stomach, and I said I didn’t have any experience at all, thinking he’d deny my request. “Great!” he answered. “Then we can train you the way we want you to be trained.”

A few weeks later, I found myself shadowing the engineer for that Sunday. She was in charge of adjusting how bright everything looked on-camera, but it seemed to me that she was piloting a spaceship for all I understood of her job. I mean, the screen in front of her looked like this:

av equipment

The whole video suite was daunting, and I was nowhere near confident I belonged there. Still, I felt welcome in that atmosphere. Being with the media team was nothing like I’d imagined. Everyone was so nice; they pulled me into their conversations and didn’t mind at all that I was too shy to speak at first. I remember one of them showed me pictures of horses on his phone for almost twenty minutes between services. After church, when my brother asked how my morning was, I remember saying something like this: “It was awesome! The equipment is so cool, and everyone’s so nice, and they had donuts!” He laughed.

Long story short, I showed up again to volunteer the next week. Then I showed up the week after, the week after that, and every single week for almost five months. During that time, I learned to be an effective engineer. I also became efficient in other media team positions:

Camera Operator **

camera

Technical Director (TD)

technical director

Stage Hand

stage hand

Computer Graphics (CG) Operator

cg operator

I began to really bond with the other team members, who ended up being the first friends I made in college.

Along with the excitement of joining the media team, there was a whirlwind of changes that came with starting college: new living arrangement, new job, new friends, new independence. The culmination of these changes came one Sunday morning at church when I was acting as the Technical Director. I was gazing at the screen in front of me, letting my mind wander, when I sensed a voice speaking to me. It was almost like when a thought pops into my head, except this thought popped into my heart. I knew instantly it was the voice of Holy Spirit, but I had never heard it before; I needed Him to confirm what He was telling me. I returned my focus to the screen for the time being and decided to ask Him if this was true when I could be alone.

That night, I sat down at the desk in my dorm room. I wasn’t sure how to go about praying with such an odd question in mind, but I thought having a Bible in front of me wouldn’t hurt, so I opened one up to a random page and set it on the desk. I also played some worship music on my phone, attempting to invite Holy Spirit to speak to me again. Once I’d done everything I could think of, I asked aloud something like, “Is this real?” Immediately, Holy Spirit spoke. The sensation is as clear in my heart today as it was in that moment. The darkness that’d choked my heart was broken through by a flood of daylight2, and the darkness has not overcome the light to this day3.

In March of my freshman year, the team was in need of a new lighting operator—someone to control all the lights in the Worship Center and on the stage. The Sound Guy asked me to try operating the lighting console one Sunday morning. I wouldn’t be programming the way anything would look; I would just be in charge of pressing a button at the right times to make the lights change according to the music. I liked it immediately. I was terrible at it, but I liked it. I started doing the lights a couple of Sundays a month, and I slowly began to get the hang of the musical timing. One day, I asked the Sound Guy if I could learn how to program the console myself, and he told me he’d teach me***. The next Saturday, he sat with me at the console, and we programmed the next morning’s service together. He walked me through every single motion I’d need to know. It took 13 hours. After several weeks of patient work together, we eventually got to the point where I could program alone. Today, I’ve been the volunteer Lighting Director at my church for a year and a half.

sound board

another sound board

The beautiful irony that I once walked in darkness and now work with light is not lost on me4. I am now the person who can dim the lights enough that a newcomer to our church can raise her hands freely in true, honest worship to my God, my Savior, my Lord, my King, my Lover, my Father of Lights5.

Notes and Scriptures:

*Definitely not his official title. Also definitely what everyone still calls him.

**I didn’t get a picture of the cameras at my church, but this one looks a lot like one of ours.

***I later found out that he hated programming the lights so much that he was beyond excited when someone else wanted to take it over.

  1. Isaiah 58:10-11
  2. Genesis 1:3-4
  3. John 1:4-5
  4. John 8:12
  5. John 1:8

Written by Becca

Header image credit: Becca Redmon

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

Letter to the Wordy Writer

“Words words words, I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?”

Audrey Hepburn sang these famous words with her now polished British accent in the renowned musical, My Fair Lady. Although not as widely acclaimed as other ballads from the play, “Show Me,” wherein a frustrated Eliza vents her frustration about all the empty words being uttered from her love interest, has always fascinated me. It’s a wonderful song to sing in the shower, too. She goes on to sing, after childishly jumping over fences and twirling with lampposts, “Never do I ever want to hear another word; there isn’t one I haven’t heard.”

That little diddy often circulates through my head when I’m reading a text rich with unusual language or editing one of my own papers while thinking, “Why did I say it like that?” Advanced writers recognize the realities that not only can one’s writing always improve, but there is also no such thing as a perfect work. However, once our grammar is polished, our story is set, and our characters have colorful voices of their own, we sometimes find ourselves taking unnecessary measures to make our writing sound “better.”

For example, an insecure/new/word-fiend writer could find many, many ways to say, “She picked up the book and ran her fingers over the rough cover.”

For instance:

“She gingerly snatched the book from its resting place to trace the familiar design of the hardback covering.”

Not so terrible, eh? Okay, well, how about this:

“The book found its way into her anxious palm, glistening under the glow of the corner of the lamp, and, with an insinuation of wonder and an insurmountable degree of zeal, she feigned to make contact with the work. Yes, her fingers traced that rough, abrasive surface as doting and forgotten memories from that very story seemed to swirl up her hand and misfortune her mind.”

Although that description may have afforded a few new vocabulary words to the reader, it likely confused him/her, too. Writers love words. It’s why we write; it’s what we do! Language is our craft, and the pen is our tool. Even Scripture warns of the great power our words can wield:

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NIV.)

No pressure, right?

As Christians and as writers, especially as Christian Writers, we have a responsibility to communicate responsibly. We ought not say things we do not mean, exaggerate on purpose, or deceive our audiences. While excessively descriptive passages are obviously not as serious as cursing someone with our mouth, it falls under the same principle: don’t say things you don’t mean. Going back to the girl in our example, after reading each one, it seems fairly certain that the clearest example was the first: “She picked up the book and ran her fingers over the rough cover.” With every ensuing description, I veered farther and farther away from my intended message. All those elaborate and continuous commas eventually distracted from what I really wanted to communicate. Although words are a vast and glorious gift which can always be explored and experimented with, they are just as capable of destruction as illumination. In the words of My Fair Lady,

“Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don’t waste my time, show me
Please don’t implore, beg on the seats
Don’t make all the speech, show me.”

Treat your audience like the worthy readers they are by showing rather than telling. It’s an old adage for a reason: it stills holds up. Dear Wordy Writer, put your words where they matter. Don’t over frillify an already pretty thing. More often than not, a few cleverly placed words are far more memorable than a copious number of SAT vocabulary words. For even more goodness on this topic, check out our “Avoiding Wordiness” video on YouTube! (End plug.)

Written by Karoline

Image credit

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

Three Dads, One Day

Father’s Day signifies something different for every father and child. For many, the day presents precious moments of reflective acknowledgement and expressed appreciation. It can be a time of community in which we have the opportunity to place ourselves in our Fathers’ shoes, to momentarily see our small worlds through their eyes.

Eager to understand how and why Father’s Day is so important to us, I asked some fathers in my Church community some questions about fatherhood and how they felt about Father’s Day.

[Me]: What’s your favorite part of being a dad?

[Dad A]: I’ve loved watching my kids grow closer to God. I’ve loved watching them use their skills and talent to glorify Him!

[Dad B]: My favorite part is the privilege and opportunity I have to father three human beings. I get the chance to disciple them so that they’ll become people who will carry the same legacy.

[Dad C]: When I get to teach them God’s ways and see them following His leading.

[Me]: What are your favorite memories of your children? Do you have any particular parenting experiences that you value most?

[Dad A]: Family holidays for sure. Fishing in Southern England with my kids was one of my favorite things to do. We’d spend weekends and summers laughing together on the beach, climbing rocks, and catching crabs.

[Dad B]: Summer vacations! We got to spend quality time together as a family.

[Dad C]: I think my favorite part was the whole thing: seeing them grow into the people they are now. I love thinking back to the days when they were still dependent on me. They’ve changed so much and have different personalities! I can’t believe how much they have overcome. They faced so many challenges when we moved here to the United States.

[Me]: What do you consider to be your strengths/strong-suits when it comes to being a father?

[Dad A]: I’m not sure if I have strong suits.

[Dad B]: I believe my strength is my ability to meet them at their level. I can be their Dad and their friend at the same time.

[Dad C]: I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my kids.

[Me]: What do you consider to be your shortcomings/areas of improvement when it comes to being a father?

[Dad A]: I have lots of those! I think one thing in particular is that I don’t think I tell them I love them enough.

[Dad B]: My weakness is definitely my temper!

[Dad C]: My weakness is that I don’t want to see my family sad. And I’m really good at spoiling my kids too!

[Me]: Finally, is Father’s Day special to you? If so, why?

[Dad A]: It reminds me of my solemn responsibility to be a Father to my children and it connects me back to the fatherhood of God in my life.

[Dad B]: It feels so special to get all of the attention for a day. You get to feel like you’re passing on a legacy to your kids – especially the love of Christ!

[Dad C]: It’s a time to reflect upon what I am lacking in as a Father, a time to receive my family’s affirmations, and a time to mend and evaluate my shortcomings.

Week after week, I watch these fathers invest their time, love, and wisdom into the lives of their children. I cannot help but think of how privileged we are to have such guardians. I know many do not have the opportunity to experience the protection, guidance, and friendship of an earthly father; but we are all blessed to have a heavenly Father. And if such delight can be found in the love of a human father, how much more in the divine love of our gracious God!

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11 (ESV)

Written by Jeka

Image credit: Jeka Santos