Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wineskins

    
Members of our church worshipping outdoors early on a Sunday morning

"No one puts new wine into old wineskins.
For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins.
New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”
Mathew 9:17 (NLT)

"You are who You say You are;
That's different than I thought You'd be."
Andrea Marie (singer)

Have you ever wondered what went through Paul's head all day after he encountered Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus?
Or have you ever wondered the kinds of thoughts and emotions that rushed through Peter's head after God led him to the house of a Gentile? 

Sometimes, we realize we need a new wineskin when God pours new wine in. And sometimes, we realize we need a new wineskin when our wineskin breaks, and all of the wine we thought we were holding onto so securely leaks out of us. In a sense, both of these things have happened to me this summer. 

To be clear, what I see Jesus getting at with his wineskins analogy is essentially this: if wine is our actual knowledge and experience of God, then wineskins are the thought patterns, habits, and systems that we use day-to-day to make sense of that knowledge of God and live it out. This is visible throughout the Bible! God's punishment of the Egyptians through plagues and subsequent deliverance of His people presented the Israelite people with a lot of "new wine" to deal with, and their Egyptian wineskins of hard work, idol worship, and living in the shadow of the most powerful empire there was would have to go. In a lot of ways, the Tabernacle and the Laws are God's way of giving His people new wineskins. A lot of prophetic literature uses the Exodus as an image to remind Israel of how their day-to-day actions and attitudes didn't fit the wine of God's actions and presence in their midst. In the Gospels, you can see how some people come running to Jesus, seeking not only the new wine of his presence and miracles but also the new wineskins of following him and joining in his ministry. Unfortunately, other people would rather not have the new wine, since it would mean letting go of their current wineskins. For instance, after Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead, John writes in the 11th chapter of his gospel: 

"...many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary [Lazarus' sister], and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
'What are we accomplishing?' they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.'”


My Wineskins
In the last several months, my wineskins have cracked. The selfishness with which I approach being at home, the laziness with which I approach relationships with roommates, the uneasiness and doubt with which I react to uncertainty- these things have all burst open. I can always tell that my wineskins are breaking when I get anxious and disorganized. There have been a lot of tears and a lot of questions. 

At the same time, I have seen God pour new wine in. He has shown me how willing He is to help me love Him. He has shown me all of the ways in which I really don't have faith in His willingness to step in and build His own Kingdom, and posed the question: "What if you trusted me here?" 


Our Wineskins
I believe that FOCUS is going through a similar process right now. And why wouldn't we be? A global pandemic, an election year, political tensions, online schooling...the list goes on. Some of us are wiser and more experienced than others, but none of us has been through something like this before. Because of that, we are working to form new wineskins for our outreach, our discipleship, our teaching, our mentoring, and our worship. It's exciting and exhausting.


Your Wineskins
I'm certain that you've had the experience of a bursting wineskin before, and I know there's a fair chance that this year has brought that experience with it. If you feel like you're having that kind of experience right now and need someone to talk to about it, please email me, text me, call me, or message me on Facebook. I would love to listen.


Thank You
I'm so grateful to everyone who has continued to pray for our ministry and to support us financially this year. Your generosity has been a stabilizing force for us, and it has not gone unnoticed. 


Prayer
  • Please pray for wisdom, guidance, unity and pureness of heart for our staff as we plan for this year. 
  • Please pray for hope and joy for our students.
  • Please pray for new students at UTD (and at all of our campuses) to find Christian community. 











Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Smorgasblog


Two of my roommates- Mark and David- spending time with God and each other in a tree in our front yard. David is over six feet tall, so he's basically a tree already.

"Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers."
Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

Trying to decide what to write my blog about today was very difficult. In some ways, the last month has felt like forever, and in other ways, the last two months have felt like one day that's overstaying its welcome. 

Do I write about the many phone calls with students, some of whom are thriving, some of whom are struggling? Do I write about the staff book club I'm in, and what we've learned about spiritual leadership and the letters of John? Do I write about trusting God in difficult times? How about emotional health? Or why not a whole blog on loving our neighbor? 

I couldn't decide, so I've made a buffet for you. Read everything, or just try what you're curious about. 


Nature / Trees

A creek near my house that I go to sometimes to make phone calls

The combination of being stuck at home and having beautiful weather has meant that I spend much more time outside than usual. While I'm not really into camping, and couldn't name a single tree or plant in the picture above, I find that I connect with God best in nature (something I inherited largely from my mother). Lately, I've listened to a Bible Project podcast series on trees (they are astonishingly important to the themes and metaphors of Scripture) and an audiobook called The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and have loved getting to learn more about the oak in my front yard and his friends. What's been especially cool is that I've gotten to see how much we can learn from trees in our walk with God. Here are a couple of examples! I think you'll find them really helpful, especially if you often think in analogies. Either way, they just show that God is always much more creative than we give Him credit for. 

  • Trees are much, much more connected than they seem. They communicate through chemicals released to the wind and electrical impulses (also some studies suggest through SOUND somehow), and they share nutrients with one another. If one tree in a forest is struggling (maybe it's getting less sunlight than its counterparts), the other trees will often send water and glucose through their root systems to their hungry neighbor. Often, the same tree will be in need one year, and then decades later be the one helping another tree out. This has made the Biblical idea of the Church being simultaneously many and one, as well as the commands to help the needy resonate on a different level.
  • Trees are meant to grow slowly. Mature adult trees purposely grow their branches near one another to create a canopy that often allows only 3% of the sunlight available to reach the ground. This "forces" younger saplings to grow slowly. This might seem like a counter-intuitive approach, but it actually makes the young trees grow more a more dense structure, which allows them to withstand things like intense wind more easily. It reminds me of the parable of the seed and the sower from the Gospels, which warns against growing quickly without having good roots in place. We often want to seem more externally mature to people, and it feels like God is teaching us the same lessons over and over again. But maybe He knows exactly what He's doing in this, and Biblical writers knew what they were doing when they urged their readers to be patient and steadfast. 

Contentment and Thankfulness
You'll see what this is in a sec!

I've had a couple of conversations with my friend / mentor / boss Brandon Worsham in which he has pointed out to me the vitality of being grateful and content in what God is doing in my life right now, rather than just wishing I were in a different season. In response to this, I bought one of the cheapest voice recorders I could find on Amazon, and have made it a discipline to use it to record the things I'm thankful to God for at the end of the day. It's hard to count all of the blessings that God gives me each day, and it's crazy that I forget them so easily!

Speaking of thankfulness, I just wanted to say how amazingly grateful I am for all of my donors who have chosen to continue supporting me in a time of uncertainty. You all mean a lot to me. 

Livestreaming Lots of Stuff
Brandon interviews Darby about waiting in the Lord at a summer FOCUS service.
I'm so grateful to know these two people!
Adam Chaibainou (an incoming apprentice and a friend of mine!) shares about what he's seen God doing this year in FOCUS

 I've had the privilege of being on the team that handles the tech side of our live-streamed services. We use two platforms, which allows our students to see a sermon and participate in worship with slides and lyrics while also seeing each other's faces and discussing the topic in a video call. It's been so cool to see that God isn't limited by our distance from one another. Go to twitch.tv/utdfocus to see the services! They're live at 7:30pm on Thursdays :)








Tuesday, April 21, 2020

My First Ministry Vlog!


Hello! In light of the fact that the video call is having a heyday in 2020, I wanted to try something new and do a vlog instead of a normal blog. I hope you enjoy!

As always, thank you so much to everyone who supports me in ministry :)



Thursday, February 27, 2020

Jesus

I don't know why, and I don't know how, but a lot of people ended up wearing their shoes on their heads at a recent outreach event. 

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, t
author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him e
the cross, scorning its shame, 
and sat down at the right hand 
of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

"I want to know Christ — 
yes, to know the power of his resurrection 
and participation in his sufferings, 
becoming like him in his death,  
and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."
Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV)

For the last few months, I've felt a push from God to look at Jesus more. At first, this feels like a "duh" kind of idea. Of course I'm supposed to look at Jesus! But looking more intently at Him has led me to the realization that I often miss out on genuinely and intently focusing my eyes on Jesus. I think we often look at Christ in a general, remember-that-Jesus-exists kind of way, but rarely in a energy-taking and energy-giving, personal, open kind of way. 

Re-reading the Gospels and being introduced to others' thoughts about Jesus (The Life of Jesus by James Stalker and The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey being two highlights) has unstuck me from my thought patterns and comfortable approaches to ministry in a lot of ways. Too often I model my ministry based on Christian ideas and morals rather than on the actual teachings and methods of Jesus. 


Some Pictures
Paul is one of the student leaders who I have the pleasure of being with and mentoring this year. He's super funny, charismatic, and makes so many sacrifices for the Kingdom.

Josiah is one of the guys I meet with this year, and not only is he well on his way to a PHD (despite being 22 years old), he's also amazingly forgiving, wise, and humble.


Luke leads a small group with Paul. Having two apostles leading the same small group really is a blessing :). Also, he's incredibly smart, musically gifted, and has a level of commitment and pastoral wisdom that's extremely rare in guys his age.
This is the cover of my first album! It's an short (25 minute) exploration of what it looks like to walk with God while going through the ups and downs of life. Look up Follow the River on the music-listening service of your choice and give it a listen :)

The foot is mine. The rest is my friend Akwasi. He was in FOCUS when he was my age (he's like...90 now), and his friendship pushes me to take myself less seriously and take Christ in more gratefully.


Showcase
Our annual fundraiser / concert / art sale / extravaganza for the Student Institute of Campus Ministry is THIS Saturday the 29th! I highly, highly recommend going- this show is always a blast, and it goes towards sending students to a week of training on how to disciple peoples in college. That week of classes has led to SO much fruit in my life over the last 6 years, so it's a cause that I really believe in. More info at anyfocus.org/showcase!

Also, thank you so much to everyone who prays for and gives to my ministry on campus. You are all such a blessing to me.



Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Psalms, Pstudents, and Psermons

A picture from one of the worship sessions at Winter Camp this year. Our students and staff did a phenomenal job preparing for worship, and it was so cool to see our students proclaim truths about God with so much engagement and energy!

"Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice."
Psalm 72:1-2 (NIV)

Instead of a single devotional thought at the beginning of my blog this month, I've interspersed some thoughts throughout my updates. I hope they're encouraging to you!


Christmastime

During the Advent season this year, I had the pleasure of getting to speak to my church's teen ministry about the story of Jesus' birth, and of getting to write a Sunday sermon on how we respond to the advent of Christ in our lives.


Winter Camp

We just finished our annual Winter Camp, and it was such a cool experience! For those of you who aren't familiar with FOCUS's winter camp, here's the general structure: 600 or so students from 12+ college campuses in the DFW area come together from Friday night to the Monday morning of MLK Day, and they worship together, learn together, and spend time with other believers. 

This year, our topic was the Psalms. Our goal was to help our students engage with this book in a way that helps them see it as a rich source of wisdom and direction for prayer, rather than a source of confusion. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9phNEaPrv8 for an awesome overview of the decisions that the Biblical authors made in compiling the Psalms!) The teaching sessions focused on:
  • Psalm 1's call to heed God's instruction in the path we choose for ourselves
  • Psalms of remembrance, and the importance of choosing to look at how God has acted in our lives in the past
  • Psalms of anger and lament, and how important it is for us to pour our hearts out to God in prayer
  • Messianic Psalms, and how they connect us to Israel's history, point us to Christ and urge us to pray hopefully for Christ's return
  • Psalm 119 and its example of what it looks like for a believer to love God's Word
I had the pleasure of getting to speak on the Messianic Psalms- a task that pushed me to learn so much more about the richness of that subgenre of Scripture than I had known in the past. The Bible shows God's faithfulness in SUCH rich and staggering ways!

Also, I got to see people embrace following Christ in some pretty concrete decisions for their personal lives at Winter Camp, which was so encouraging!


Spring Welcome Week

We had such a successful board game night and met so many students last week!

Although much of our outreach occurs during the first few weeks of the fall semester, we also make a concerted effort to meet students at the beginning of the spring semester. Transfer students and international students often find themselves stepping onto a campus where all of the friend groups have already solidified, and student life isn't doing anything to help them make new friends. On top of that, there are a lot of freshmen who have spent a semester without friends or in the wrong friend group and are ready to search for different people to go through life with and different decisions to make. This year, we've had a lot of success in meeting students and inviting them into our small groups!


Prayer
  • Pray for wisdom as we look at potential students to invite to the Student Institute of Campus Ministry, a campus ministry leadership conference we participate in every year that's immensely important when it comes to giving our students a vision for building God's Kingdom while in school.
  • Pray for our cores (small groups) to grow in commitment to Christ and intimacy of fellowship with one another.
  • Pray for guidance as we enter a new sermon series on how to think like a Christian.

As always, thank you SO much to everyone who prays for me and supports me financially!





Saturday, November 30, 2019

Fear would be a good word for it.


A shot of the horizon at UTD. More on why I put this picture here below!

"Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
    whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the path of the wind,
    or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
    the Maker of all things.
Sow your seed in the morning,
    and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
    whether this or that,
    or whether both will do equally well."
Ecclesiastes 11:4-6

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. 
‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, 
harvesting where you have not sown 
and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. 
See, here is what belongs to you.’"
Matthew 25:24-25

Lately, I've had the feeling that something was holding me back from engaging with God, with people, and with the tasks I have in front of me. I've gotten the sense from God (and been told by friends) that the best thing I could do in this situation was to choose not to focus on my own inner concerns, but to focus on two things: to understand and love Him and to give love and nurturing to others. Ironically enough, the one prayer that I've prayed the most in the past 3 years has been to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love people like Jesus did. 

So, I decided to try to focus on that, rather than attempting to solve my problems through introspection (a favorite pastime of mine). Instead of focusing on how I should pray, I began to focus on going back to the drawing board for a richer understanding of who Jesus is. Instead of focusing on how I should love, I began to focus on who was around me and what their needs were. 

Then, I found myself alone in a car for two hours on a rainy night this week, driving to a Thanksgiving gathering. Finally, in some time with God in the car, I got some clarity on the situation. 

The common thread holding me back from engaging with God, people, tasks, goals, and presence was fear. 
Fear of letting the guys I meet with arrive at the end of the year unchanged. 
Fear of slipping into old attitudes and habits. 
Fear of wasting a meeting, a sermon, a blog, or even a semester. 
Fear of falling back into anxiety.
Fear of drifting away from God.
Fear of God turning away from me. 
Fear of letting someone down. 
Fear of getting in trouble for letting someone down.

I was reminded of 1 John 4:16-18- "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
Wherever you feel fear regarding a situation or a person, there could be a tangible opportunity to push yourself toward love and toward action. 

A few important notes.
  • It hit me again during Thanksgiving break just how much I have to be grateful for. God has blessed me in too many ways to count. A specific thank-you to everyone who supports me in ministry through prayer, conversation, and donations. 
    • Another thing to be grateful for: UTD FOCUS has had a handful of baptisms in the last couple of weeks!
  • As you may have already heard, December 3rd is Giving Tuesday, and FOCUS is going to be raising donations for our annual Keep FOCUS Growing fundraiser. This year, our theme for KFG is Bring the Horizon. This comes from the idea that the horizon is where heaven meets earth. When we think of the horizons for FOCUS, we think of more students from more people groups on more campuses hearing about God in a more meaningful and effective way. As FOCUS seeks to reach more campuses in the DFW Metroplex and send out more missionaries onto those campuses, we find ourselves in more and more need for financial support. This year, we've raised $36,000 in matching funds, so please mark your calendar for December 3rd and give on anyfocus.org/KFG!
  • While filming a promo video for KFG, I dropped my phone from the fifth story of a parking garage, and somehow, it didn't break! Praise God for that!

Pictures
Paul and Luke are two guys in my peer team. Paul (left) is on staff at his church and a leader in FOCUS, in addition to working separate jobs in social media advertising. He's incredibly hardworking, and I don't think I've ever heard him complain. Luke (right) hopes to serve God in the medical field and is mature well beyond his years. Both of these guys are enormously insightful into scripture and into the guys in their core.

This is Josh. He's not actually as serious as he looks in this photo. I've gotten the privilege of meeting with him for 3 out of his 4 years of college. He's bold, tender, wise, and uncomfortably intelligent, and God has done some awesome things in him and through him in his time at UTD.


Andrew is new to my peer team this year. He's generous, wise, funny, and unique, and he loves God's Word. Also, you can tell by the way this picture is taken from below that he's pretty tall.
I didn't know Tim very well before this year, but he is leading a small group with my friend Jack, and I've gotten to know him quite a bit better this year. He's smart, insightful, and fierce in his work ethic and love for others. He's killing it in that dress shirt.

John has been my roommate for the last 3 semesters, and he's in my peer team this year. On top of that, he's quickly becoming a good friend of mine. He has a natural intuition and love of Scripture (plus a heart to grow in that), a totally out-of-left-field sense of humor (he's had me rolling on the ground in laughter multiple times), and a loyal, teachable heart. On top of that, he's grown so much in using his gifts to love and minister to others.


Friday, October 25, 2019

Limp Wrist

God reaching out to Adam (representing mankind) in the Creation of Adam section of the Sistine Chapel.

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
pursuing their own imaginations..."
God to the Israelites; Isaiah 65:1-2 (NIV)


"He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 
'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'
Jesus replied, 
'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'
'No,' said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.'
Jesus answered, 
'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.'
'Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, 
'not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!'
Jesus answered, 
'Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; 
their whole body is clean. 
And you are clean, though not every one of you.'"
Jesus washes Peter's feet; John 13:6-10 (NIV)


"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. 
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, 
I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."
Jesus to the Church in Laodicea; Revelation 3:20 (NIV)


"God doesn't clean His fish before He catches them."
From a song I heard, and also from an embroidered
pillow someone was selling on Facebook.

God has been using a handful of Bible verses, conversations, pieces of art, and times of prayer to point something out to me: repentance is relational.

Some of the Bible's strongest calls to repentance are followed closely by some of its strongest calls to approach God. 

Recently, I gave a sermon on unity in the Church, and the Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel (pictured above) spoke to me a lot. In the picture, God is reaching desperately out to Adam (literally reaching out from heaven towards mankind, straining towards them), and Adam is relaxing like a lazy Roman king eating his dinner, draping a limp hand back out towards God. It hit me as a call to reflect on all the things God has done in history and in my life to reach His hands out to me, and all of the ways I have neglected to grab ahold of His hand. 

Perhaps the first step to repentance is often to repent of the way we see God. 


What I've Been Up To
  • Peer team- getting to meet with, be friends with, mentor, and pursue God with 12 different student leaders this year has been a huge blessing and challenge. More on that below!
  • Core visits- Each pair of these student leaders facilitates a different core (small group), and I've gotten to visit each of these small groups over the last few weeks. Seeing what God is doing and getting to share the experience He's given me in that area (you become "the experienced one" quickly when the turnover rate is 3 or 4 years) has been awesome
  • FOCUS on Jesus videos- I've had the privilege of filming training videos for our new 1-1 Bible study. These videos will loosely guide hundreds or even thousands of students over the next several years as they study the Bible with their peers. Many thanks to Laurence Glenesk over at SMU FOCUS for writing the new study!
  • Preaching at Tuesday Night Fellowship- I've gotten to preach every other week at our large-group meetings on Tuesdays. This has grown me a lot in trust and time-management. Also, it's definitely pushed me to grow in public speaking.
  • Marketing- I've loved getting to oversee our awesome 3-person marketing team at UTD. Our goal is that no student has to graduate without having heard of a Christian community on campus- we want to be a visible community of Christ for our peers to see around them. This has involved video commercials, banners, yard signs, Instagram posts, etc.. Many thanks to Ashley and Maria (two of our apprentices this year) for all of their creativity and hard work in this area!

Pics
A student named Corbett who is an alma mater of my old highschool, Coram Deo Academy. Getting to be friends with someone who is in the same spot I was in 5 or 6 years ago is such a cool opportunity :) Love you, dude!

Ashley Obregon- UTD apprentice, Christian Instagram influencer, all-around godly woman. It's been great working with her this year.

Jack Steele- two years in a row in my peer team. Jack is one of the most generous young men I've met, and I've seen him grow in confidence and pastoral thinking so much over the last 16 months or so!

Jalen Quintana- UTA staff member, and the first person I ever led a small group with. This is a terrible picture of him, but I know he won't mind. He has the spiritual gifts of evangelism, wisdom, and laughter. 

Charlie was an honorary member of my peer team last year, and now he's leading a core! He's been so influential in bringing people from different interest clubs at UTD to FOCUS, and he brings a sharpness and energy that I value so much. 

Our students at Fall Camp! We had such a good time this year learning about making and sticking with decisions in our walks with God.

One of my core visits this year turned into us waiting out a tornado in a garage (which I now know was maybe not our best option). Everyone was safe!

John Bunyard- a friend, roommate, and peer team guy. He has a dry sense of humor that has had me rolling on the floor laughing, but I've also been floored by his insight into Scripture and into people. Definitely wise beyond his years.

Apparently, bracelet-making is the favorite activity of males at camps.

Our community put on a small surprise birthday party for David Maynard (you can guess where he is in this picture) at Braum's. David has impacted as many people in this community as anyone I can think of, so it was well-deserved.

Prayer
  • We are re-integrating our Tuesday Night Fellowship with our Friday Night Fellowship to redirect more staff hours away from event-planning and towards time with students. Please pray that this would lead to fruit in our community.
  • Please pray for the victims of the tornado in the Garland area.
  • Please pray for our busy students and staff to walk in step with God and be at peace.
  • We have a lot of students who aren't Christians, but who have shown interest in learning more about the Bible. Pray for us to be faithful in loving them and showing them who Jesus is.