Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Ahhhhh

Our staff eating together at our end-of-year staff dinner. Thank you to Drew Cleveland for letting me steal this picture (he doesn't know I stole it).

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul."
- Psalm 23:1-3
Have you ever been out of breath, and had the thought: "This walk to my mailbox sure is tough. I'm out of shape!"
Or have you ever had the opposite experience? I remember when I played basketball in high school, I could go jogging for several minutes before feeling out of breath. It's obviously much harder to get to that place in my old age, but I remember that feeling fondly.

Something I didn't realize until about 4 minutes ago is that it is very, very difficult to change your lungs' capacity for air. The reason we don't get out of breath when we exercise is that we are training our hearts to more efficiently pump blood (and oxygen) to our organs and muscles.

This reminds me a lot of our spiritual wellbeing. God has been bringing this quote from Psalm 23 to life for me a lot in the last few months:
"He refreshes my soul."
From what I've read and heard (I am far from a Hebrew scholar), the word for "soul" here- nephesh- is synonymous with someone's breath, passion, personhood, and being. God has been showing me that, while He gives us countless ways of finding rest and enjoyment in His Creation and in His people, He is ultimately the one who restores our being itself. Rikk Watts says: "Until such a time as we know the I Am, we can never truly be."

This summer, God has been refreshing and restoring my soul. My time working for FOCUS has been a time of constant transition- I moved houses 4 times in the first year, I've gone from a student to an apprentice to a senior staff member (transitioning between very different campuses each time), and in doing so, I've had the blessing of meeting and getting to know a lot of people. That being said, I've also learned to package my personality so I can get to know those people a lot more, and I've learned to share my sins, hopes, fears, and experiences with God with a lot more people. That grew me a lot, but it also meant that I became exhausted at a soul-level. This summer, God has refreshed the part of me that my capacity for healthy compassion, regret, hope, and sadness comes from. The sure-footed security of Jesus shows me that when we fully entrust ourselves to God- including our identity itself- He stewards our souls better than we ever could (we probably have more of a habit than we realize of out-sourcing the development of our personality and character to our surroundings).

Now, back to the whole exercise metaphor. I'm pondering- and perhaps you've pondered this too- what it looks like to get in better shape spiritually. To improve our ability to breathe God in when life gets hectic. As I've begun to have more responsibilities in the last few years, I've begun to have much more sympathy for the parent who struggles with their prayer life, and for the friend who works 80 hours a week and doesn't seem to have as many interests as my friends in college (go figure!). I'm realizing that as the treadmill of life speeds up, I'm going to have to be very purposeful in spiritual cardio so that the breaths I take of God refresh my soul the way they did when I was a junior in college who lived at home and worked 8 hours a week.

To my friends and donor-friends who are in the thick of life, just know that I have enormous respect for you, and God understands how difficult it is to grow in character and closeness with Him while your capacity is being tested. I also believe more than ever that God is in the business of refreshing souls, and that He can rebuild even the most burnt-out, "over it" person there is. I'm praying that you can be refreshed by God amidst the busyness of life.

Prayer

In the interest of my time and yours, I'm going to lump my ministry updates in with my prayer requests this month.


  • Please pray for wisdom and receptiveness to God's voice for our staff and our students as we select and begin developing our student leaders for the upcoming school year. 
    • Our UTD staff are wrapping up the process of nailing down our core leaders for the upcoming school year. There's a good number of student leaders for the coming year (I think around 30 guy leaders?), and I'm excited about all of them.
  • Please pray for our students who don't have access to their FOCUS community throughout the summer.
    • A lot of our students move back home, graduate, or begin working full-time jobs during the summer, and it can be really difficult to find the stability, accountability, and spiritual food of community when they suddenly don't have the small groups and Bible-studies that they did the previous month.
  • Please pray for our summer FOCUS services to be impactful and meaningful to our students, and to point them to Jesus.
    • This summer, our Thursday Night Fellowship services are centered around the idea of being a lifelong disciple outside the college setting. That's such an important topic because college is a uniquely fertile environment for ministry and spiritual growth; it's a blessing to find that, and it's hard to leave it. 






Thursday, May 23, 2019

Whatcha Want?

Our group of UTD students at the Student Institute of Campus Ministry (SICM) this year, teeeeechnically standing in Canada (about 50 feet from the border). 
"Those who live according to the flesh have their
 minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live
in accordance with the Spirit have their minds 
set on what the Spirit desires."
Romans 8:5 (NIV)


"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, 
because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Matthew 9:36 (NIV)

Do you have any interests that are important to you, but other people really couldn't care less about?

I love rap music. To me, a good rap song can have so much depth and meaning. My heart for others, my faith in God, and my appreciation for people of different backgrounds have all been challenged by people who used the medium of rap to communicate. 
Most people don't really want to hear about this.

Something that God has pointed out to me is that I do a pretty terrible job of learning to care about what He cares about. I often come to God for direction, for peace, and -if I'm honest- to appease Him, because, after years of following Him, I can still think He's somehow needy. Recently, God began pointing out to me that I rarely talk to Him about what He wants to talk about. First, I don't talk to God about the nations (namely, the thousands of international students at UTD from mostly unreached countries) coming to know Him. Second, I don't often come to God just to be with Him. I think Jesus came to his Father for direction, peace, wisdom, and more, but I also think Jesus just loved to be with his Father. 



SICM
My SICM roommates and I with our wonderful host family! From left to right: Deion, Me (looking very dazed), Jason (our "host dad"), Toni (our "host mom"), Aidan, Sion, and Caleb (our "host brother")

Every year, FOCUS sends a number of students who have shown consistency, initiative, and a heart for God and people to Bellingham, Washington for a week-long conference called SICM, where they learn to be disciple-makers on their campuses. SICM is where I first began to see myself as someone who God wanted to use to bring others to Him (or closer to Him) on campus. 

And it was so great this year!
  • Our students were incredibly cheerful, engaged, focused on God, and supportive of one-another (trust me, that's not always the case)
  • No one was injured (go hiking with 80-120 college freshman, and you'll see why that's a miracle)
  • We had some awesome experiences doing campus evangelism at different colleges in the area. One of my housemates, Deion (in the picture above) grew up Buddhist but became a Christian two years ago. The person he ended up in a conversation with grew up Christian but was considering Buddhism! You could see God's hand at work in so many places!
  • I got to attend some of the classes, but I also got to do some video work in preparation for next year's Spring Showcase (our huge fundraiser to send students to SICM), and our UTD senior staff got to have some really productive times planning for next school year.

Overall, it encouraged me and put ministry back in perspective to see a bunch of college students getting excited to share their faith with others and grow closer to God. 

Prayer
  • Pray for summer FOCUS! We start today, and I'm super excited. I've found that God can do a lot of behind-the-scenes heart work during the slower days of the summertime, and I would love to see Him do that in our students and staff.
  • Pray for our students who are back home. It can be hard to keep growing in your faith when the structures (small groups, accountability, one-on-one Bible studies) that pushed you towards God fall out of place. Please pray that they would continue to grow as disciples and find a solid Christian community where they are. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

[metaphorically] Gardening!

During Spring Showcase, I had the privilege of performing an original song with a FOCUS student named Hannah (SUPER talented, but unfortunately not in this picture) and a FOCUS grad named Chiazo (right-hand side in the picture above). More on what made that meaningful below!

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, 
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. 
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. 
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."
John 15:1-3 (NIV)


I wanted to start out with a HUGE thank-you to everyone who came to Spring Showcase to help us send our students to SICM! (If you're not familiar with Showcase, I have failed you, but also you can look at my previous month's blog post for more information). It was definitely a success, and such a joy to take part in.

A couple of friends and I had the honor of getting to perform a song we had written specifically for the Showcase, and it was such a blast to do. Normally, that's not the kind of thing I would write about in a ministry blog, but this song ended up becoming an exploration of the ways in which God works in our hearts and in our spirits to renew them. I think it captures a lot of the ways God has worked to change me since I've started following Him. If you're interested in that, you can read those lyrics here.

Lately, I think God has been growing me and pushing me in a few ways. 
  • He's been showing me that I'm a campus minister, but I'm not here to help people be disciples in college. I'm here to be used by God to help people become the kinds of disciples who grow in their faith for a lifetime. I can't take anything close to full credit or full responsibility for the rest of someone's life as a disciple, but that's the kind of perspective I want to have. God's showing me that I have a lot to learn here.
  • God's been showing me that I still have a lot to learn about love. It can be easy to assign different attributes to God (love, justice, mercy, etc.), and then to attempt to know Him by learning about those things, but if He really is the source of Truth, then I should really be seeking to learn about what love is by getting to know Him more. 
  • I recently finished taking a Financial Peace University class with a bunch of people from our family of churches, and God has been challenging me a lot in how I spend my money. I've never been stingy with people, but I have never been stingy with myself. That coffee I bought, that bedframe I don't need but haven't sold, and those pants I forgot to return for 30 days are all little innocent (or not-so-innocent) examples of me poorly stewarding the resources God has given me. God's growing me up in this area :)

Here are the people I went through Financial Peace University with. The dedication and humility of these people challenged and inspired me a lot!

Alumni Night
A picture of everyone who showed up to Alumni Night

Katy Jordan, a FOCUS graduate who works on campus at UTD and has continued to be a leader in our ministry for several years, organized an Alumni Night, where- you guessed it- alumni came to our large-group service! It was so cool to see a bunch of FOCUS grads- many of whom I was a student leader with, and a handful of whom now have kids. It was a great reminder that we're not just shaping college students as disciples- we're shaping future accountants, computer programmers, artists, missionaries, mothers, and fathers. 

Prayer
  • Please pray for our students as they enter the dreaded season of finals. Many of them are exhausted from the semester, and we want them to finish well.
  • Pray for our students to be purposeful in the last month they have to disciple one another before many of them move back to their hometowns for the summer.
  • Pray for our students to be purposeful in planning how to grow closer to God this summer!





Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Important Details Enclosed Inside

If you ever have the opportunity to be on a Q&A panel with your mentors, do it. You get to look more important than you are without answering any questions. More about this event (Pizza Theology) below!


Hello! I have a veritable smorgasbord of updates this month.

First things first: I have committed to staying on FOCUS for an additional 4 school years after this one! I'm excited about this- I can't wait to see what God does in me as a minister, and what He does on our campuses. 




Pizza Theology
I tried something new- drawing my slides by hand! It was a lot of work, but I loved getting to communicate my thoughts visually.

One of our goals as a ministry is to be "intellectually vibrant." Since we serve college students, we want them to pursue learning about Scripture at a college level. One of the ways we push this is through a once-per-semester event called Pizza Theology. Students from all of our campuses gather in one place for 2 hours of learning, an hour of pizza, and then two more hours of learning. 

This time around, we talked about the book of Exodus, with talks on the place of Exodus in the Torah, the narrative of Exodus, the Law, the Tabernacle, and the themes Exodus introduces into Scripture that come up in the New Testament. I got to talk about the narrative of Exodus, which meant about an hour of teaching (luckily, we did a Pizza Theology on Exodus 5 years ago, and I got to adapt a talk previously given by Brianna Marble). 

I was amazed by how engaged our students were throughout this, and I believe God really showed up and made the story of Exodus and what it says about Him come alive for us. 

https://anyfocus.org/media/exploring-exodus-pizza-theology/
^Go here to give it a listen!


Prayer Walks
In an effort to continue to push our community towards growth in prayer and intentionality on campus, we're taking a week to walk around campus once a day and pray for God to be working and bringing down spiritual barriers (think Jericho) at UTD. It's been amazing to see how the Spirit begins to lay things on our hearts and speak through us as we go!


Spring Showcase!
Every year, we send our potential student leaders from all of our campuses to a conference called SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) to learn how to be disciple-makers for Christ on their campuses. In order to help them pay for this, we put on a concert and art sale called Spring Showcase, and it's always way, way better than I expect it to be! Please consider coming- I promise it's a good cause, and you'll enjoy yourself :)



Prayer
  • Please pray for our SICM students as they raise funds to go learn how to do campus ministry for a week in Washington! That's a very impactful trip, and we really want to see these students be able to participate in it without worrying about money.
  • We've encountered a lot of students recently who are interested in following Jesus, but have intellectual and heart-level barriers in their lives. Please pray for God to show Himself to these students and remove those barriers. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Here

Our students worshiping at Winter Camp. It's amazing to see so many people from so many college campuses pursuing God.

"When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, 
God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses! Moses!'
And Moses said, 'Here I am.'"
Exodus 3:4 (NIV)

"But Moses said to God, 'Who am I 
that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'
And God said, 'I will be with you.'"
Exodus 3:11-12a (NIV)

Have you ever felt like God gave you a New Year's resolution? 

You're getting ready for the year, thinking about the things you want to accomplish, the kind of person you want to be (if you're like me, these ambitions are well outside reality). Then you talk to God about it, and He says: "presence," and you think to yourself: "what?" 

That seems to be one of the main ways I see God's Spirit guiding my growth. He knows my heart much better than I do, and often that means He will lay something on my heart that I have not yet realized I need to be thinking about and growing in. As I entered this semester, I've been pushed to think through the idea of presence a lot more. What does it look like for me to truly be present when I'm with people? Jesus says he will be with us always, and promises to send the Spirit to live in us- what does it look like to live in light of that? 
It's hard to really be where you are, and to be aware that God is really there too!



So Much Preachin'

This semester has started off a bit differently from most for me. Brandon (the FOCUS director, and now my direct supervisor) wanted to give me more "reps" with sermons so I could get more comfortable preaching. So, I've already gotten to preach twice this semester, and I'm going to get to preach again this week! 

If you ever want to be really, really challenged by a sermon, write one. Nothing brings conviction quite as much as preaching what you believe is true in front of a bunch of people and then realizing how much your life doesn't match up with that afterwards. We've been talking about prayer in our sermons lately, and it's really challenged me to grow my prayer life more intentionally. 

Here are links to the sermons if you want to listen!
https://anyfocus.org/media/what-is-prayer/
https://anyfocus.org/media/prayer-for-the-mission/



Alone time with God...together!
This is what happens when you want to capture a moment, but don't want to distract people from what they're doing.

One of the most common complaints among Christians seems to be: "I want to spend more time with God, but I'm always tired, distracted, restless, busy, etc.!" 

Last semester, Brandon shared a blog post from a woman named Shannon who does campus ministry in Washington with an organization called Campus Christian Fellowship (we work with them quite a bit) in which she shared about having personal devotional time in quiet spots on campus, and inviting students to do the same with her.

So I've started spending an hour a day in the library from Tuesday to Friday, having quiet devotional time with God, and inviting students to do the same. Most of the time, we're just quietly in Scripture and in prayer while sitting together, but sometimes good discussions will come up. A lot of people in our community are reading through Acts, so that's given us a lot to share about with one another. 



Prayer
  • Please be praying for our next generation of student leaders. In May, we have a leadership conference called the Student Institute of Campus Ministry, in which we send our most faithful young disciples to CCF in Washington to learn how to be missionaries on their campuses. Raising money and coordinating for that is a lot of work, and my hope is that these students begin to have a vision for the kinds of disciple-makers they can be.
  • I've recently started studying the Bible with an international student who has a Jainist background, but is very open to conversations about religion and philosophy. Please be praying for openness, wisdom, and God's hand to be at work in all of it.





Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Grandest Intention


Our house threw a New Year's Eve party, and three guys from my junior year core showed up! From left to right: Andrew, [Me], Bogdan, and Stephen

"As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.
Night is coming, when no one can work."
John 9:4 (NIV)

"Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil."
Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV)

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”
Oscar Wilde

Before the semester ended last month, Sirak (my ministry supervisor) and I met up to talk about how the semester had been for me as a staff member for FOCUS. I asked what his biggest growth goal for me was, and he said: "I want you to turn ideas into actions." 
He said this because he knew that no amount of creativity and excitement and ministry can replace discipline. I am notorious for coming up with ideas for helpful habits, conversations, and events for our students, but not going through with most of them. Over the break, I was reading a book by Gordon MacDonald called Ordering Your Private Life, and in it, he quoted an excerpt of William Barclay commenting on Samuel Coleridge:

"He lost himself in visions of work to be done, that always remained
to be done. Coleridge had every poetic gift but one- the gift of 
sustained and concentrated effort...
...No one ever reached any eminence, and no one having reached
it ever maintained it, without discipline."

Ouch.

Discipline is obvious in the life of anyone worth imitating- especially Jesus. Imagine the discipline it would have taken to heal people one-by-one, late into the night, and then wake up before sunrise to pray! This kind of discipline- or lack thereof- is what I've spent time reflecting on over the last few weeks.

What have I been up to during the holidays?

I've gotten to spend a lot more time with family than I usually do, which was a huge blessing! I'm very thankful to have a generous, supportive family that loves God. The more people I get to know, the more I realize just how unusual that is.

A handful (is 78 a handful?) of people from FOCUS at UTD read through the Gospel of Luke over Christmas Break, answering the question: "what is God's will for my life?" For the past 24 days (there are 24 chapters in Luke), I've been posting to a Facebook group to share my thoughts from that day's chapter. This has been so good for me (and for a lot of us), and I'm currently working on more ways for our community to spend time in Scripture together. 

One thing that has forced me to grow in discipline is working on music. I've used music as a way to decompress and work through my relationship with God for 7 years now, and over the last few years, God has nudged me more and more towards sharing that with people. Last month, I rented an AirBnb with a friend named Akwasi to record some of the music we had been writing together. 
Akwasi providing emotional support to a microphone.

Finally, our staff recently got back from our Winter Staff Retreat. Each year, we read a book over Christmas break, and then spend the first few days back from break together having fun, praying for one another, worshipping God, and discussing the book we've read. This year, we read A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This book challenged my lack of perseverance and my blindness to all of the injustices in the world around me. As we discussed it, I felt as if God was saying: "I don't just want your emotions- I want you to change the structure of your life to love people."
Some of the apprentices and I sitting in some ridiculous chairs at staff retreat. From left to right: Drew, Me, Emily, and the back of Abbie's head.

Prayer
  • We will be doing a few bigger outreach events our first week back on campus to meet more students- pray that God would help us to meet the right students and that they would be open to Him and to Christian community.
  • Winter Camp is 9 days away as I'm writing this, and it's probably our most important event of the year. 600+ students from all of our campuses come together for a weekend of worship, lectures, and friendship building. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Not Just a Job


A group photo from our last UTD campus ministers' reception. I was so challenged by the dedication to the Gospel that all of these men and women demonstrated. Some of these people have been doing campus ministry longer than I've been alive, and they seem to have only grown more passionate!

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. 
So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. 
Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 
The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."
John 10:11-13 (NIV)

"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


The first semester of my senior year, I had 3 jobs (not something I recommend). I worked for a guy who sold shirts on eBay (super weird, but I kind of enjoyed it), I did social media work for a small company (an awesome opportunity within my field of marketing), and I helped direct the drama program at my old high school (if you know me, you know I loved being in plays in high school). These were all three great jobs, but none of them were my passion. The thing that I got excited about, prayed about, worked towards improving in, and had ambitions surrounding was ministry, and more broadly, my relationship with God as a whole. 

The thought of my job and my passion being one and the same seemed almost too good to be true! When God called me into ministry, that vision became a reality. It's a crazy blessing to get to do campus ministry as a full-time career. But I've learned this semester that this blessing can become a pitfall. God has been showing me my tendency to seek to placate the desires of my supervisors and bosses, rather than pour myself out for others. I remember meeting with Ronnie Worsham (see some of my early apprenticeship blogs for more on the amazing man of God that he is), and telling him how refreshing it was to spend time with people who I wasn't expected to mentor, and who I wasn't reporting to as a part of my job. He responded: "I understand what you're saying, but you're always a disciple." A tough reminder, but an important one. God also brought this lesson home when Brandon, the director of UTD FOCUS, assigned me to preach "a challenging sermon on discipleship." I was reminded of how much Jesus truly calls us to sacrifice in order to follow him (hint: if you're looking for a certain amount, you're missing the point). (https://anyfocus.org/media/never-underestimate/ to listen to that sermon)

In a week or so, most of the students I meet with on a regular basis will be back at their parents' houses with their families, and my "job" will go on hold for a couple of weeks. However, as I talk to God about the break, I get the sense that He's calling me to love my family more intentionally than I have in the past. 

"Repent and believe the good news."  No sphere of life is off-limits for the Spirit's work. 



Peer Team
Adam and Luke have been a huge blessing to meet with this semester. This is a silly photo of them sitting on some furniture in a parking garage.

God's taught me so much through meeting with the guys in my peer team this semester. One extra praise-worthy thing from more recently: a guy in Adam and Luke's core (small group) went from being distant from Jesus and afraid of getting to know him to wanting to follow God and be baptized! The transformation in this guy's relationship with God (and subsequently, his life) has been amazing. 

 
Other Great Humans
Sirak Asfaw was on FOCUS staff when I came into UTD as a freshman. I remember playing basketball with him when I was 17, and absolutely WRECKING him with my superior skills.
He's challenged me so much this year to turn interactions with people into loving, prayerful insights, to turn ideas into actions, and to do all of it for God's glory instead of my own.
Drew Cleveland was the second person I led core with- my junior year. Here he is, wearing my glasses and looking better in them than I do. 
Our friendship has been a mixture of 10-year-old boy stuff (riding scooters, going to trampoline parks, laughing at everything) and the understanding, challenge, openness, and dedication of a long-lasting spiritual friendship. Also, I was the best man at his wedding, and his encouraging note to me at his wedding was better than my best man speech. Drew is doing the apprenticeship this year, and he's already being used by God to minister to our staff and our whole community at UTD in so many ways. 

This is Brandon Worsham, the director of FOCUS. The first time we got lunch together, I was 18, and I accidentally nuzzled him on the cheek.
I've lived with him, worked under him, been mentored by him, fallen on the floor laughing because of his stories, and said some pretty stupid things in front of him. Even though Brandon isn't my supervisor, he's found a way to get time with me almost every week this year. Besides my parents, probably no one else has impacted me as much as this man.
Finally, y'all have impacted me! The financial help, prayer, and encouraging messages from my supporters have continued to be something I quite literally could not do this without.
An additional thank-you to everyone who gave to KFG! We raised $75,000 in one week!!! 

Prayer
  • Pray for our students to pursue God on their own time over the break. These breaks can be a time of spiritual growth or of stagnation.
  • Pray for our students and staff to love their families well over the break.
  • Please text me or email me how I can be praying for you as well!