Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mercy

[Most of] our UTD staff at the Halloween party FOCUS put on for the campus. From left to right: Sarah, Abbie, Emily, an ugly rendition of The Hulk (me), Jesse Bales, Drew, Darby, and Jessie Wang. These people have been a huge blessing to work with!

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven,
but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner!'"
- Luke 18:13

"At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence,
many of us pretend to believe we are sinners.
Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven."
- Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

This school year, God has probably grown me most in my ability to observe people. So much of ministry is about helping people look at themselves through an honest lens as they learn to look at God through an honest lens. Having Sirak Asfaw as my supervisor in ministry this year has probably contributed a lot to this- the man asks questions about my life that I've never thought to ask. 

Recently, I had multiple meetings with guys in a row in which I felt like they couldn't see any of the ways they could be growing, but I could see 50. Before starting my time with a couple of student leaders, I felt God lay the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector on my heart. "Oh, that'll be good for them," I thought. "Thank You for showing me how to minister to them, God." That night, I realized why God was reminding me of that story- and it wasn't for them. God was reminding me that I couldn't "graduate from the Gospel," and that when I tried to ignore my ugliness and my sin, I was also ignoring God's grace for me. Ronnie Worsham, the pastor of Northeast Church, often says "we can't appreciate the good if we don't process the bad." 

Meeting More People!
A bunch of students dancing at our Halloween Party! Much appreciation to Karlo for coming as an avocado and wearing a sign that says "avoKarlo."

Recently our outreach team, which the apprentices and Sarah Glenesk (leftmost in the top photo) put together a free party for the campus to have a great time. I got to meet so many new people (many of whom were international students), and heard some encouraging things. One person said this night was the best time they had ever had at UTD (proof you don't need alcohol to have fun), and another said: "I had no idea Christians could have this much fun." I'm reminded of Jesus' first miracle being the remarkably "useless" and extravagant turning of water into wine. 

Also, the president of the Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists group on campus visited a Tuesday Night Fellowship at FOCUS recently and was very engaged with us. One of the apprentices and I got to visit one of their discussions, and we were surprised more by their openness and eagerness to talk than we were by anything else. A few of them are interested in coming to FOCUS to get to talk about Jesus from a different angle than the one they're used to.

Prayer
  • Please pray for our student leaders as the semester wears on. In my experience, this time of the semester is often the most difficult- the initial burst of energy has worn off, but the end is barely in sight.
  • Please pray for the people we've been meeting on campus throughout the semester, that God would continue to work in their hearts, and that we would see where He is working and join Him there.
  • Recently, one of our church members lost their two-year-old grandson in his sleep. Please pray for the family as they grieve. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Paying Attention

Our students at Fall Camp this year! The weird thing they're doing with their hands is called the "whoosh"- it's a UTD thing. 

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Matthew 11:15

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: 
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..."
James 1:19

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."
James 1:22

In my short time doing ministry, I've learned that although time and money are very important resources, our attention and attentiveness are just as important. It's very possible to go meet with people, execute a planned Bible study, say some prayer at God, get home, say hi to roommates, rinse, and repeat. What God has been reminding me is that when it's your "job" to spend time with someone and help move them onto God's agenda, it's deceptively easy to fool yourself into thinking you're loving that person and truly being attentive to who they are. And what's scarier- when it's your "job" to talk about God, it's deceptively easy to fool yourself into thinking you're loving Him and listening to Him. What God has been reminding me of is that He has something to say and that people are precious to Him. 

Fall Camp
This year at Fall Camp we had a bunch of posters with markers where people could write out specific ways in which they had seen others in the ministry live out various "one another" commands given to the Church in the Bible.

FOCUS does two main camps each year for their students to spend a lot more time together than they normally would, and to get to learn about and worship God for an extended period of time away from their normal stressful environments. Fall Camp is the first of those two camps, and it's campus specific. Each year, students carpool together to Mt. Lebanon Baptist Encampment in Cedar Hills, TX to spend 24 hours together. Last year when I was working with UNT, my old friends from UTD were at the camp at the same time, but this year, I was back with them (although a lot of the students are new now!). It drizzled for most of the time, but people were still so happy to be together!

This year, we had students sharing about how they had been impacted by the community and how they had seen the sacrifices it takes to be All In for God and the Church (in keeping with our theme this year). One of my peer team guys named Josh shared the story of his college experience- how he had to overcome expectations of what a ministry should look like and learn to open himself up to people proactively. The weekend was a potent reminder of the profound things God does through groups of believers simply being faithful in loving one another.

Getting into the Word

Often August and September are so full of going out and meeting new people that you don't get to spend as much time studying the Bible with people as you normally would. However, this month I've gotten to spend a lot more time in the Word with guys from my peer team. We've been looking at the urgency of Jesus' ministry along with the images of God's movement in redemptive history in Mark, examining our hearts more closely and looking at what it actually means to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt 22), and more. 

Also, I've gotten to start studying the Bible with a freshman at UTD who works at a tea shop that I go to regularly. For the sake of anonymity, we'll call him a name from the Bible...how about Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz? My friend Maher grew up in church, but his family stopped going when he was around 10 years old. He's asked really good questions about Scripture and the story of the Bible, as well as who Jesus really is, and it's been an enormous encouragement. 

We also just finished preaching through the metanarrative of Scripture at our larger Friday Night Fellowship meetings, and I had the pleasure of preaching on God's promises of heaven, the resurrection, and a redeemed relationship with other, Creation, and God Himself. (https://anyfocus.org/media/how-does-the-story-end/ if you'd like to listen yourself!)

I never thought I would get to preach in a building where I went to business school!


Thank you so much to all of my supporters. You all have been such a blessing and so reliable.

Prayer
  • Pray for our students to see the value in Christian community and in time with God
  • Pray for our students and leaders to see that God loves them a lot, and His love isn't conditional on what they "accomplish" for Him



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Where Are You?

Meeting freshmen at a board game night in a res hall! These were the bread and butter of our outreach before school started, and we were blessed to meet so many new people!

"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking
in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'"

God has blessed FOCUS students and staff in their mission immensely so far this year. There have been so many students who didn't at all seem receptive to Christian community come around and end up wanting to find real friendships with us and learn more about Jesus. I can see students who are approaching ministry and fellowship with much more zeal than I had at their age, and I'm grateful for it. 

While many new students have reacted to us with open hearts and grateful words, this is- of course- not always the case. It's been interesting to note, however, that hostility isn't a problem with students, so much as avoidance is. We've been going through a sermon series called Why are we her? about the broader Biblical narrative that's established in Genesis of who God is, who we are, and how everything got so broken. As we've been doing this, I've been taking a step back and thinking about these same things, and what keeps coming to mind is the strange propensity we have as humans to avoid the God who is reaching out towards us. Possibly the biggest indication that Adam and Eve knew they were doing something wrong when they took the fruit from the serpent is that they never approached God about the whole ordeal. I mean, if I was losing in an argument to a serpent about what God said to me, I'd wait until God's next morning stroll to clear the whole issue up...right? 

But it seems like we all are implicated in this avoidance of God. I've read (somewhere) that some of the saddest words in the entire Bible are God's words to Adam after the fruit is taken: "Where are you?" I'm realizing more and more that the job of a minister is to push people to face God. To the freshman who grew up in the Church, but doesn't really want to go deeper in their faith, God says: "where are you?" To the student leader who is so concerned about how God might be appraising their work that they're afraid to know, God says: "where are you?" And to me, the campus minister who busies himself with a thousand tasks to use as a thousand excuses for not slowing down and listening to God's voice, He says: "where are you?" 

The most beautiful parts of my ministry experience have been watching people come out of their hiding places to face God and realize that He wants what's best for them. The most beautiful parts of my life have been the times I've realized I've been hiding and have turned to face Him. 


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Peer Team
Josh and Eric are two of the guys in my peer team who I love spending time with. I had the experience of getting to study the Bible with Josh when he was a freshman, and it's so cool to be with him every week again! These guys are both incredibly talented and genuine.

My supervisors decided to help me be a little bit more like Jesus this year by giving me 12 guys to mentor directly. These 12 guys are all student leaders who have been paired up to lead cores (our non-coed small groups) this year. I get to meet up with them as pairs every week to discuss our lives, dig deeper into our faith, and help them navigate the opportunities and challenges of campus ministry. I've been so impressed by all of their diligence, openness, and willingness to learn so far this semester, and I can't wait to see what else God does. 

Miscellaneous Things
Our first Friday Night Fellowship this year. We've had an incredible turnout every week, and I've gotten to meet so many people and have so many good conversations.

FOCUS is trying to have more of a presence on campus at UTD, so we've begn making videos sharing what we're up to on campus and inviting people to get to know us. I've gotten to take part in 4 video projects so far, and I'm still managing to trick the staff into thinking I'm qualified for the job!

A group of our student leaders imitating the terrifying, terrifying smile of our beloved mascot, Temoc. This happened during our Corefa Training Day on campus. This leader team works so hard, and yet they still have great attitudes.


Prayer
  • Please pray for us to be attentive to what God is doing in the lives of the students we've met. It's tempting to try a shotgun method to ministry, challenging and exposing students to every piece of Scripture and advice we can think of, but it takes a lot more faith and wisdom to wait for God's voice on some things.
  • Please pray for our students (and staff) as they seek to balance everything on their plates this semester. Several people I've talked to are stressed out with work, school, ministry, and personal lives.
  • Please pray for us to be dilligent and faithful with all of the contacts and people that have been dropped in our laps over the last month. It can be overwhelming, but we don't want anyone to fall through the cracks. 


Monday, August 6, 2018

The Harvest is Plentiful

Our new apprentices this year! From left to right (*deep breath*): Alex, Brittany, Abbi, Emily 1, Emily 2, Sam, a laptop, Reagann, Drew, Amber, Ryan, an empty chair, Darby, and Jesse. 
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they 
were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 
Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'"
Matthew 9:36-38

One thing I've noticed in my brief time in campus ministry is that many of life's forces seem to draw us away from reaching out to new people. It's a constant temptation to get complacent, to cloister oneself away, and to rest on the fact that you worked hard last week, last month, or last semester. What God has been pointing out to me lately is that this attitude creeps up most when I am selfish. Have I gotten burnt out? Have I chosen comfort over faithfulness? Have I lost a heart for others? These all happen when somewhere along the way, I took my eyes off of the person of Jesus and the needs of others.

This summer has largely been a journey of reorienting myself towards the mission of ministry rather than focusing on transitioning staff teams and cities or doing my tasks well. This verse keeps coming to mind. "The harvests are plentiful, but the workers are few." Jesse Wang, a new FOCUS staff member (who has been doing campus ministry much, much longer than I have) frequently emphasizes to me in our conversations how few of the students on campus at UTD are ever invited to study the Bible, to be a part of a small group, or to come to a campus ministry or church meeting. I'm realizing that the people who are closest to the heart for God are by necessity inundated with a heart for bringing people into His Kingdom.

Getting Geared Up
A bunch of the staff getting snowcones during staff retreat. The blonde boy with sunglasses on is Drew Cleveland- we led a core (small group) together my second year as a student leader, and he's apprenticing with FOCUS this year!

We just had our annual summer staff retreat this week, in which we spent a few days hanging out, worshipping God, getting to know one another better, welcoming the new apprentices, and preparing for the explosion of life that is the first few weeks of school! I was struck by how much more at home I felt among the staff this time around. 

Thank You

I want to say a special thank you to all of my supporters again. It means so much to me that you would follow a call to give to support the ministry we do. I hope to keep getting to know you better as the year goes on!
Also, welcome to the new supporters!

Prayer
  • Pray for the students we'll be meeting this month on campus. Pray that they would be open to friendship, to growth, and most of all, to Jesus.
  • Pray for our students as they meet people on campus. Pray that they would be conscious of God's presence with them, at peace, and joyful. Pray that they would balance their schedules well in order to be able to have a good start to their semesters as students.
  • Some of our students have experienced difficult times with the sickness or loss of family members recently. Please be praying for them and their families. 





Friday, July 6, 2018

The Grass is Greener

Students from all of our campuses at one of our Thursday Night Fellowships. God has been moving at these nights every week in some really cool ways!
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Psalm 23:1-3

"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, 
rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction."
2 Timothy 4:2

I hated the summertime as a kid. 

Well, hate may be a strong word, but I do remember sitting on the floor of my room, yearning for the excitement of the school year to return. I felt like I lost the ability to learn, to be creative, to grow as a person in the summer. Of course, by the time April and May rolled around, I was stressed out, barely able to wait long enough for summer to begin. The grass was always greener on the other side.

I also felt this way about my own spiritual growth in my first few years as a disciple (and my first couple of summers as a college student). I could grow a lot during the year, but the hours and hours of free time the summer gave me felt more like miles and miles of desert than anything else. The same applied to ministry. During the year, there were Bible studies to lead, mentors to learn from, and students to study the Bible with. Then all of a sudden, just me, a Bible, and way too much unused energy pushing me away from it. 

What God's been teaching me is that since He is a God who loves to spiritually feed His children, He can direct me toward pastures that are green with opportunities to learn, to love, and to grow. At any season of life, God can provide me (and you) with spiritual growth and with people to minister to. 


New Opportunities


God has given me so many new ways to grow and people to learn from and minister to over the past month!

  • I've begun meeting up with potential corefas for this year at UTD! (Just as a friendly reminder, "corefas" = core facilitators, cores = small groups) These interactions have been so encouraging- these guys are all so grateful for what God has done in their lives through their cores this past year, and they can't wait to point people to Jesus. Getting to lay foundations with them months in advance is a huge blessing.
  • I've gotten to reconnect with old friends, be blessed by them, and (hopefully) bless them. Friends like Drew Cleveland (who's going to be apprenticing at UTD this year!), Joseph Hackenbracht (who I led core with my last semester at UTD!), and Joey Thurston (who was in my core as a freshman, but even at that point challenged me with how thoughtful, mature, and in love with Jesus he was). 
  • I've gotten to dip my toes into children's ministry some! I helped out at JaM Camp- which is a camp the DFW Metro Family of Churches does for children K-5. God has been widening my horizons and teaching me to be a disciple of Jesus in my interactions with people of all ages.
  • I've gotten to have great conversations with past and potential future financial supporters. Getting to pray for and be prayed for by people who have so purposefully helped me out in the ministry God has called me to is very, very meaningful.
  • I've gotten to build deeper relationships with family members. As a socialite who likes to be busy, I've been criminally bad at growing in my relationships with family over the past. God has been pointing out the selfishness and ickiness (that's a Biblical term) of this attitude and giving me opportunities to have conversations of depth with family members.

As I go through the process of fundraising again, I'm struck by how generous and thoughtful people really are. Thank you so much to everyone who has prayed for and given to FOCUS and to me specifically!

Kids at JaM Camp passing through a tunnel of adults' hands. 


Prayer
  • Please be praying for our students to grow closer to God
    and to grow as disciples of Christ this summer. 
  • Pray for incoming freshmen, transfer students, and international students to be seeking God and to find friendship and community in FOCUS and other Christian groups.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Rhythms and Foundations

A photo of all of the students at SICM this year. It's so crazy thinking of how many people God will impact through these students!

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
...a time to plant and a time to uproot...
...a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them...
...a time to be silent and a time to speak."
-Ecclesiastes 3 (excerpts)

In our crazy world of frequent moving, hectic schedules, and noise, the rhythms of the seasons are one of the few things that become predictable and constant (although only somewhat so in places like Texas). For those of you who aren't students, you may have experienced the harsh wakeup call of realizing that at some point in your life, summers are no longer a time of rest, fun, and eventually, boredom. I've definitely experienced that before. However, more than in most careers, ministers of students continue to work around the seasonality that school is defined by. The question is: what is this season defined by for campus ministers?

The summer is a perfect time for laying foundations. We lay foundations financially and relationally by fundraising and getting to know our donors better. We lay foundations of friendships with students who we weren't around during the school year. We lay foundations for the upcoming year of ministry by praying for the year- for the students we are going to meet, the students we will be working with, and for our own hearts and minds to be ready for it all. As we are doing all of this, we lay foundations in our hearts by spending time with God and in Scripture.


SICM

At the end of SICM, we pray for the students from each campus FOCUS is on. It was beautiful to see the hearts these students have for one another, and for the people they will be reaching out to.


SICM- the Student Institute of Campus Ministry- is an annual conference that seeks to train students from around the nation (but mostly from Texas) up to be disciple-makers and missionaries on their college campuses. It's where a lot of the students in our ministry go from simply being shown Jesus to showing Jesus to other, and it's where they learn wise and practical ways of doing that on a college campus. This conference is in a beautiful town in Washington called Bellingham and is hosted by a ministry called Campus Christian Fellowship. It primarily comprises a week of classes on everything from how to plan a Bible study, to how to reach out to strangers, to how to read Scripture well. The experience of SICM has been compared to that of drinking water from a fire hose (something I know we've allllllll done....right?), and this is a pretty apt description. I first went to SICM as a student in 2014, and it was awesome to get to be there as a staff person 4 years later!
One of our students named Charlie was baptized at SICM!

Prayer
  • Pray for our students as they leave the continual pouring in of SICM and go back to very different environment of a college summer. Pray for what they learned to take root in their hearts, and for God to prepare them for the ministry they will be doing this fall.
  • Many people on our staff and in our student body are getting married this summer (it's seriously ridiculous how many weddings I have on my calendar this summer)! Please pray that God would bless these marriages and make them into something that glorifies Him and shows others the love of Jesus. 



Friday, May 4, 2018

Not What We Had Planned


Our students worshipping and celebrating at our Spring Formal. There's something really beautiful about getting to praises God while outside in His Creation.
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, 
I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day 
until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it
on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
-Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

As I quickly come to the end of UNT and TWU's school year and the end of my time with the FOCUS staff in Denton (don't forget- I'll be on staff at UTD next year!), I'm struck by something that hits me pretty much every year- this did not go as I had planned it.

When I think about the things that defined this year of my life- this things I'm grateful for, none of them are things that I had really planned. Sure, I had planned to apprentice with FOCUS for a full year before applying, but I could not possibly have planned to be impacted by unforeseeable relationships and situations. I had no idea that I would spend my first semester fighting anxiety, but few things have deepened my faith in God's love for me like the experience of knowing He is with me despite my inability to be at peace in the moment. I had no idea I would meet people like David Nathan, or Collin, but God taught me a lot about loving Him, loving people, and discipling others through these guys. I had no way of knowing which freshmen I met during the first week of school would fall off the map, and which of them would stick around and potentially become a student leader next year. I certainly didn't know I would go back to Richardson after only a year in Denton. However, these are some of the most defining points of growth and blessing from the apprenticeship. God shows Himself to be faithful and wise beyond my perception and understanding, and I've grown a lot because of it. I believe a lot of the students I know would say the same.

Spring Formal

Every April or so, each campus celebrates the year they've had by coming together, socializing, dancing, and honoring the people in the community who have given their time and energy for others. We spent time worshipping God through singing and through prayers of praise, and it was incredible to see the joy, comfort, and boldness with which students prayed out loud to God in front of a hundred of their peers. I love these students, and I'll miss them a lot when I move back to UTD.


Peer Team

My peer team and I, and a whole lotta sky. Matt Clark (second from the left) is standing in for Bekwele Wodi, who had another engagement (he was planning a worship event, so we'll let him slide). Go to the student testimony to see a picture of Bekwele smiling super big (and, more importantly, to learn what God has done in his life).

This week, I've been talking with my peer team guys about what they believe God has taught them this year, and what He's putting on their hearts to grow in and pursue in the summer. The things they've been sharing are proving to me that God has been the One in control of their growth this whole year, and because of that, they're going to be just fine when I move away (not that there was ever any doubt in that respect). Love you guys!

SICM

Many of our potential leaders (from all FOCUS campuses) are going to be headed to the Seattle area starting next week to learn how to be missionaries and disciple-makers on their college campuses at the Student Institute of Campus Ministry, and I'll be there with them! 

Thank You

As I approach the end of the FOCUS Apprenticeship and look towards my next year on staff with FOCUS, I'm struck again how amazing my job is, and how blessed I am to be supported through prayers and donations in doing it. I don't always see you all, but thank you to everyone who has been pouring into FOCUS- we don't do this ministry alone, and having you as colaborers is a big blessing.
Also, shameless plug- if you know me at all, if you have a heart for college students, or if any of my blogs have blessed you at all, I would love to have you as a prayer and / or financial supporter and share more of what God is doing with you. Just email me at rhett@anyfocus.org.:)

Prayer
  • Pray for our students who are going to Washington for SICM. Pray that God would give them the alertness and openness to take everything they learn in both with their minds and their hearts.
  • Pray for our students as they enter the summer. Pray for intentionality in finding community and pursuing God despite a change in the structures around them.
  • Pray for our students to be able to grasp God's faithfulness to them as they process the year. Pray that this would translate into a long-term growth in their faith as individuals and members of the Church.