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!





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.