Thursday, April 1, 2021

Enough

One of our students, Ari, helping us deflate a giant beach ball after an outdoor outreach event!

"Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

"But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that."
1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV)

"Said the robin to to the sparrow,
'I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so."
Said the sparrow to the robin,
"Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me."
The Robin and the Sparrow by Elizabeth Cheney


So far this year, God has been challenging my conception of what is "enough." He has been exposing the myriad of ways in which I seek to twist and stretch towards a life that is convenient, satisfying, and exciting. He is exposing the ways in which I feel like I "deserve" a certain kind of food or entertainment or appreciation after a long day or a hard week. 

One of the biggest ways in which God challenged me was by giving me the opportunity to preach on a single line of the Lord's Prayer: "Give us today our daily bread." In short, He showed how when we learn to bypass our own pride-and-fear-driven desire for gain, we give space for God to show us that He is giving us what we need, and we are able to enter into the truly abundant life of sacrificial Kingdom-love that Jesus typifies and leads us in. If you're curious about this and would like to hear more, you can find this sermon here: https://www.thenortheastchurch.com/content.cfm?id=315&download_id=1443 (it starts at around the 20 minute mark in the audio). 

Showcase

Every year, FOCUS sends over a hundred students who have demonstrated faithfulness, availability, teachability, initiative, and a heart for God and people to a week-long leadership training conference called the Student Institute of Campus Ministry (SICM). This year, instead of sending students to Washington state for SICM (to a wonderful ministry near Seattle called Campus Christian Fellowship), we will be hosting our own version near San Antonio. SICM was influential and formative in my own development as a disciple when I was a student. 

Showcase is the main way we help these students offset the cost of room, board, and travel so they can give God and one another their undivided attention over the course of a full week. It's going to be live-streamed THIS Saturday from 6:30-8:30 on anyfocus.org/showcase!

I've had the pleasure this year of writing two original songs that will be featured during Showcase, as well as being a part of the tech team. I think we've got something very special planned, so I would highly encourage you to join us. 

I had the chance to record a song for Showcase in an actual recording
studio a couple of weeks ago! It will be "debuting" on Saturday.




Seminary

I've had the enormous blessing and opportunity to begin online classes at Fuller Theological Seminary this week! I plan on working towards my Masters of Divinity with a focus in Biblical Theology over the next several years. I'm excited and grateful to see what I learn through the lectures, reading, discussions, and times of prayer that this will lead me through, and I trust that God will use it to grow me in knowledge and love for Him and His people. 


Students
A student leader (and incoming FOCUS apprentice) named David and I line
 our faces up on a Zoom call to create this terrifying image.

We've had to get creative this whole year, but as more students receive the vaccine, we are finding that more opportunities are beginning to open up to spend time with students. While there are a lot of grave and deep conversations that happen in the course of discipleship, there is also a lot of laughter as we build friendships and enjoy the quirkiness and zest that college students bring to the people around them each year. 

Prayer
  • This year brings a lot of life-transitions with it. I plan on getting married and moving to an apartment with my future wife Kaylee this summer, in addition to starting seminary and preparing for a year of more normalcy on campus. My body tends to react to transitions and stressors like this through anxiety and health problems, and I've noticed some of that lately. Please pray for me to find strength in God, to have wisdom to handle these transitions well, and to have a heart for others during this season. Also pray for the people around me to have patience on my bad days :)
  • Please pray for continued protection for our students. But thank the Lord for how good He has been to us so far!
  • Please pray for Showcase to be a success, and (more importantly) for SICM this year to be safe and impactful for our students. 












Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Gospel

"Behold Your King"
The second station of the cross from an outdoor sculpture garden at the Museum of Biblical Art

"God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son 
into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.
This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us 
and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins."
1 John 4:9-10

"To fix beliefs or ideas in someone's mind, especially by repeating them often"
Definition of "inculcate" from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary

"To stamp in, to form upon, to impress"
Etymology of "inculcate"

Over the last month or so (but really for much longer than that), God has been pushing me to-you guessed it- inculcate the Gospel in myself. I think it can be easy to think that once we have read the Bible, accepted the Good News, and even "taken ownership" of the Good News, our work of absorbing the Gospel is done.

However, a quick look at our fears, our insecurities, our beliefs, our doubts, and our identities shows that although we hold onto the Gospel and are held onto by the Gospel, the truth of the Good News doesn't pervade our thinking in the way we would like it to. This has been my experience all too often. Headlines about a worsening pandemic overshadow the hope of redemption. Stories of Christians putting their faith in politicians (on either side of the aisle) overshadow the hope that Jesus so obviously had for his Body, the Church. Constantly being confronted with my fragility and weakness overshadows the trust that God could know me, love me, and (here's the craziest one) use me. 

I wonder if this kind of situation is why churches throughout history have leaned into consistent liturgy so heavily. I wonder if that's why I could visit my grandparents' Lutheran church this Sunday and hear the same creeds, songs, and prayers that I heard 20 years ago when I couldn't even see over the pew in front of me. God has been teaching me the extent to which the world muddies the living waters of the Gospel.

I don't always trust God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Not only is that something God has grace for- it's something He isn't at all surprised about.
I (and all of us) can choose to be purposeful about finding ways to preach the Good News to ourselves and to one another regularly. 

I've been developing a personal liturgy- a set of five scriptural truths, each with two accompanying verses that I read out loud to myself daily, and I've been encouraging the students I meet with to do the same.


Idolatry
A moment from our introductory sermon on idolatry. We've since spoken on the idolatry of entertainment and beauty.



We've been teaching on some of the many things that we as humans tend to idolize. I would highly recommend watching some of these if you have the time!

Prayer
  • Please pray for continued safety for our students and their families during this pandemic.
  • Please pray for opportunities to reach students on campus. The lack of campus life and the cold weather has made that difficult, but God has been faithful! One of the small groups whose leaders I've been mentoring has doubled in size over the last month.
  • Please pray for conviction and wisdom for our students as they seek to follow God well without the normal structure school provides (most classes are currently asynchronous). 











Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Parakleo

A screenshot from one of our Deep Dive teachings. More on that below! (Also, notice how professional my slides are)


“When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, 
a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.
Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, 
and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 
He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. 
Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”
So Jesus went with him.”
Mark 5:21-24 (NIV)

“All this I have spoken while still with you.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, 
will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. 
I do not give to you as the world gives. 
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:25-27

Here are two pieces of Scripture, from two different Gospels, describing two different situations. In one, a religious authority is desperately pleading with Jesus to save his little daughter’s life. 
In another, Jesus is promising that the Father will send an Advocate (your translation may render this as Counselor or Helper) to the disciples. 
In one, a man falls at the feet of the Divine and asks for help.
In another, the Divine comes down to men (and women) and offers them help.

And somehow, “pleaded” and “Advocate” come from the same root word in the Greek- parakleo. I care about this because Brandon, the director of FOCUS and a friend and mentor of mine, recently (at the Advocate’s suggestion) put that word in my hands and told me to learn what it means and seek to become it. And apparently, this particular word applies to an aid, a counselor, a lawyer, and a desperate beggar. 

One explanation (https://bit.ly/2Ggc4fD) reads: “Parakaleo can include the idea of giving help or aid but the primary sense in the NT is to urge someone to take some action, especially some ethical course of action. Sometimes the word [conveys] the idea of comfort, sometimes of exhortation, but always at the root there is the idea of enabling a person to meet some difficult situation with confidence and with gallantry.”

It’s amazing that one word could contain so much humility and yet so much boldness as to encapsulate all of these things. 
How is the Spirit doing this with you?
How can you do this with others?


Ministry During COVID
While I won’t bore you with all of the details of which buildings are open and which ones aren’t, which weeks have been fruitful and which ones have been frustrating, I will say this: God has been very obviously at work this year!

Despite the uncertainty and restraint of a pandemic, we have been able to meet new people, and there are a fair number of freshmen who are in our cores (small groups), being discipled and bringing their own discipleship to the table. People are being staggeringly open with one another- pushing to allow God to work on every part of their hearts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come away from a conversation with someone and thought: God was working there. I’ve seen God give me an idea for a question to ask or a Scripture to discuss, and then seen how He has used it to very specifically minister to the guys I’m talking to. I’ve seen Him do this for other people. 

He’s at work!

That being said, there have been harder times. Trying to map out the Venn diagram of state laws, federal recommendations, university regulations, the call of the Gospel, the Great Commission, and the call to protect others has been very exhausting at times. We definitely need prayer as we seek to be faithful and fruitful. 


Deep Dive

When we were planning what to do as a large community, we had to face the fact that we can hardly do anything physically as a large community. We had spent the past several months (from March to mid July) attempting to recreate our normal services (worship, sermon, fellowship, etc.) in a streamed format, and had found that in doing so we weren’t embracing the situation we were in. 

We decided this semester to do something together that we could only do during a time like this. Something centered around deep learning and reflection. So we started Deep Dive- an hour a week, a chapter a week of going through the Gospel of Mark in a way that engaged the heart and mind as much as possible (given the time constraints). 

And because of the busy schedules of the other pastors at UTD, this teaching time became my responsibility. Getting to dig into a single book of the Bible (a small one, at that!) and think through how to teach it has been immensely rewarding. I again get to sort through the complicated Venn diagram of commentaries, sermons, classes, books, academia, campus ministry, etc.. We have students from all sorts of backgrounds- ones who have read the Bible cover-to-cover multiple times, and ones who have only heard bits and pieces in passing. 

I’ve been amazed at the extent to which our students have engaged with the material. In a lot of ways, Mark’s two main goals are to get us to look at Jesus and to get us to look at ourselves, and I’ve seen our students doing both of those things. 


Spotlight - Nhala
There are 6 corefas (core facilitators) who I have the pleasure of mentoring and walking alongside this year, and I’d like to give each of them some space on a ministry update so you can see the kind of students I get to disciple and learn from. 

The first is Nhala (pictured above). Nhala came from a Christian family in the Philippines, and moved to America after high school. He is pure-hearted, sincere, and attentive. We usually wears a smile and always wears a hat. This is his first year leading a core, and God is teaching him to pair his genuine heart with insight and boldness as he goes through the ups and downs of discipleship.


Prayer

- God has been very faithful to protect our students from the pandemic so far- please pray that he continues to do so.
- Pray for our students and pastors to learn to think like Jesus and approach problems the way God would want us to as we navigate a confusing and contentious political season. 
- Pray for consistency from the students who are in our small groups and Bible studies, and openness from the ones who are not yet in one. 







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.