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

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Under the Stars and City Lights

The first time I drove myself to college at night, I was shoved off the interstate onto the wrong exit and got lost in downtown Dallas. As a somewhat inexperienced driver who had been downtown only once in fourth grade, to say I was terrified is an understatement of massive proportions.

The scene that greeted me only heightened my fear. The buildings were old and run-down, nothing like the glittering skyscrapers I had seen from the highway. It seemed like the lanes were two sizes too small and were always going the wrong way. And the nearby pedestrians… well, I could tell they weren’t exactly hitting up the Myerson Symphony Center anytime soon.

I pulled into a gas station and drew a deep breath (after making double-sure my car doors were locked). There were only a couple of other cars in the station, but the empty parking lot next door was practically paved with glittery glass shards. I could only imagine what had transpired over there—where those glass shards came from and how they got there—and I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable. My hands were shaking, not from the January chill as much as from fright, as I pulled out my phone to Google Map my way to campus.

I passed that parking lot on my way back to the interstate and didn’t think about it again.

About a year later, in the following December, I found myself burned out on the service project I had been doing for the last two and a half years. Despite the project being similar to what I had grown up doing (working with children), I never felt that invested, and I knew I was wasting valuable time (which is a whole other blog). I was growing miserable; I dreaded service every week, and I hated that such was the case. Service was supposed to be fulfilling and rife with opportunities to see God at work, not stressful.

Hearing about my struggle, a friend suggested I join him for his service project. He had been serving in a homeless ministry ever since I had known him, but I didn’t know much about it. I was curious, and I knew it would be safer if I went in a group, so I agreed.

We carpooled with some other DBU students and made our way to the city. I wasn’t driving this time, but I recognized the dark parts of town, and the nerves began to take over again. However, with my friend in the seat next to me and my pride to maintain, I forced my anxiety to stay in my head.

We parked in front of a bakery, and the whole group convened in an empty parking lot—one I recognized as the one I had seen on my little expedition back in January. Before I could fully process that realization, the leader of our group started explaining what was happening. This wasn’t just a ministry or some offshoot of a bigger church—it was a whole, independent church that met outside and served the streets of downtown Dallas. We, as volunteers, were to walk the streets and ask anyone we came across if they had any prayer requests or were interested in free Chik-Fil-A.

Every alarm bell I had went off. For twenty years, I was told to never speak to strangers and to avoid compromising situations of all types, and I was being asked to break both of those principles at the same time. And there were no children in sight to hide behind.

The friend I had come with, of course, was a nonplussed pro, only shooting me a quizzical look at my expression before someone started to pray.

Pray I did—and with my eyes open, too. (I know, so rebellious.) I had no idea what to expect as I trotted behind my group for the rest of the night.

One year after that fateful Wednesday night, I have been attending West End Church almost every week. I’ve been able to serve actively in ways I never was able to serve in my home church, and I’ve found fulfillment in a place I never thought I would. I have never feared for my own safety; instead, I have grown more comfortable with and more aware of my surroundings. And, most significantly, I have learned so much about how people relate to each other and to God.

I’ll be frank: I grew up in what most people would call a rich-kid town. Even though my family wasn’t particularly well-off compared to some of our neighbors, I was still raised with certain expectations for everyday life. Even though I knew these expectations were unrealistic for most of the world, it never really changed the way I thought or behaved. It took some time hanging out downtown twice a week with people who live such a different life from my own to really make that knowledge real and relatable.

Just driving through that scene wasn’t enough. I actually had to leave my comfort zone—get out of the car—and interact with the things that frightened me to discover what life in the city streets was really like. Most of the things I was scared of turned out to be much less scary when I obeyed God’s leading, and I’ve grown tremendously as a result. I’ve learned that the places that look the least God-like are the places where He wants to send us, to mold us and shape us all into kingdom-minded followers.

And you know what? I still don’t know what to expect each time I cross that parking lot and venture onto the streets. I’ve learned to face the unexpected with grace—or at least more grace than I had the first time I was down there. My comfort zone stretches just a little bit more every week, and even when the weather is cold or wet and I just want to go inside, I love it.

Written by Catherine

Image credit: Charles Guo, a member of the church. The friend who first invited me is mysteriously missing from this picture, but there are plenty of other friends here!

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

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

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