Thursday, November 17, 2022

Seek His Face

 


"My heart says of You, 'Seek His face!'

Your face, Lord, I will seek."

Psalm 27:8 (NIV)


Song of the waters calling: come and drink. 

Come, all you creatures, to the shadowy brink 

in dark of night.

This spring of living water desire, 

here in the bread of life I see entire 

in dark of night.

Song of the Soul by St. John of the Cross 

(translated by John Frederick Nims)


There is a unique plight that a college pastor who is concerned with the spiritual health of the people under their care will always face: How do I foster spiritual health in this person that will outlast their time as a student? It's the teach-a-man-to-fish conundrum- only in regards to loving God. I think there can often be a problem in the Church in which pastors concern themselves with motivating people to pray, and churchgoers concern themselves with finding pastors who will motivate them to pray. What's interesting is that the material on prayer found in Scripture, as well as the material on prayer throughout Church history that has been deemed worthy to be passed down through the centuries is hardly concerned with motivating people to seek God.

Instead, the angle of approach seems in many ways to be one of showing the kind of precious, intimate, all-encompassing relationship with God that is possible. Rather than pushing prayer onto people the way a parent pushes their child to eat vegetables, these writers presume a thirst for prayer- seemingly operating on the assumption that the ache for more that we feel is not a problem to solve, but a blessed invitation. What if rather than searching ourselves for an energized motivation to pray, we searched ourselves for spiritual hunger pangs, seeing them as an invitation, rather than a problem?


A Smorgasbord of Pictures

A bunch of college students have started using the social media app BeReal over the last handful of months. Rather than providing users with a constantly generating feed of content, all it does is randomly ping you (and all of your friends) once a day at a random time, giving you two minutes to take a picture of what you're up to. It has proved invaluable in capturing both the candid moments of ministry and the horrifying faces I am capable of making. Enjoy.



Talking through small group leadership with Stian (left) and Jonathan (right)

I try to play basketball with students once or twice a week.
Pictured here is Jadon, in the worst-timed picture ever.

Sometimes a 20-30 minute time alone with God in the afternoon
helps to process the day so far and prepare for the rest of it.

Eating breakfast with Drew, a Denton FOCUS pastor.
We led a core together in 2015-16, and were both in each other's weddings!

The Northeast Church retreat!

Teaching a preaching workshop for our apprentices!
Pictured: Hannah and Stian
Not pictured: Katherine, Coral, Kevin, and Eileen

Getting to study the Bible with Andrew, a TCU student!

Bonus content:
My wife and I brought home a kitten (who we've named Winnie)
to be a little sister to our cat (named Captain).


Prayer

  • Pray for our students over the Thanksgiving break. Pray that they would be a light to their families, and that they would be able to come back refreshed.
  • Pray for our one-on-one Bible studies, that God would use them to bring people closer to Him.






Thursday, October 20, 2022

"I Am Prayer"


"In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer."
Psalm 109:4 (NIV)

"'The vision of God,' says Bishop Westcott, 'makes life a continuous prayer.' 
And in that vision all fleeting things resolve themselves, 
and appear in relation to things unseen...
'I am prayer,' said a Psalmist. 
'In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,' said an Apostle."
The Hidden Life of Prayer by David M'Intyre

The Psalms often show a writer who is facing great adversity, but is learning to "find themselves" in God- finding comfort in His presence and provision. Think of the image of God's presence with the Psalmist in Psalm 139, or of the images of God's attention and provision in Psalm 23. One of my favorite instances of a Psalmist learning to find themselves in God, however, is tucked away in an angry Psalm of lament. In Psalm 109:4, the phrase that the NIV renders "I am a man of prayer" is intentionally vague. While "I am a man of prayer" is a valid translation, tt could be translated: "I am in prayer," or even "I am prayer." In short, the Psalmist is not just describing prayer as a habit of his, but simply attaching himself to prayer. 

This has made me wonder on and off for the last couple of years: What kind of intimacy with God would someone have to reach in order to be able to say: I am prayer? Or is the Psalmist expressing a reality that is already there: if you have given yourself to God, you can only really find yourself and be yourself when you are in connection with Him from then on. You have been bound to Him. You are prayer.

Ministry Highlights

This time of the semester is one of my favorites. While the August and September season of intense sowing (meeting new people, starting new relationships, etc) is always fruitful and rewarding, the subsequent months of really getting to know students and really getting to be on the front row of God's work in their lives are my favorite part of being a pastor. 





Jonathan (left) and Stian (right) are two of my favorite guys to meet with. Here they are, both wearing the same shirt, and both frozen in what can only be described as a half-grimace.
Jonathan is a student who has blessed me and others with his humility, consistency, and dedication to being a faithful disciple and a good friend. Stian is a good friend of mine who is doing the apprenticeship this year! More on him below.


Stian (pictured here cutting my hair) was someone I got to mentor as a student a few years ago. Since then, we've become good friends, and I'm getting to help him step into life as a full-time college pastor. And he's helping me not look totally disheveled.


Prayer

  • Please pray for our students to learn to rest in God. October is often a time of the year when students are busy and stressed, because they've been at their studies for several weeks now, but the end of the semester isn't in sight. I've found that students who struggle with depression often find this time of year when both mental energy and daylight are more at a premium to be difficult.
  • Pray for our students' hearts to be shaped by God's Word and by Christian community. It's "basic," but we just want them to know Him.
  • Let me know how I can be praying for you! 






 



Thursday, September 8, 2022

Creating

All of the current FOCUS pastors from over a dozen different campuses, all together in one place!

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, 
darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."
Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV)

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: 
The old has gone, the new is here!"
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

As I have mentioned a few times in these ministry updates, I have spent the last year and a half in part-time (and occasionally full-time) seminary classes with Fuller Theological Seminary.

One of the many classes I have gotten to take this year boasted a beautiful name: The Church's Understanding of the Church, Humanity, and the Christian Life in its Theological Reflection (as you can imagine, it provided me with a lot of nice, easygoing, rainy day reading material). Two of the many topics covered in this class were those of Creation and Anthropology (the study of humanity, and what it means to be human). Studying these things brought about a much more robust understanding of the fact that not only did God create everything I see around me- He is continually sustaining and creating new things. 

The ways we see God creating in Genesis help us understand the ways that He makes us into new creations! Just as the Spirit hovered over the chaos and nothingness of reality before creating the universe, He hovers over the chaos and nothingness of our hearts, our relationships, and our lives. Just as God spoke light, life, order, flourishing, purpose and relationships into being for Creation, He is doing the same in our lives today. Notice the words John picks up on when describing Jesus in his Gospel and in his letters- light, life, water, birth, etc...all images that first find their way into Scripture in the narrative of Creation. 

How does your life resemble the story of Creation? Are you in a time of chaos and nothingness, barely cognizant of the Spirit hovering over you, planning something new and keeping you from boiling over? Is God bringing order to an area of your life? Is He shining light on something in your heart? Is He introducing new relationships- filling your life in new ways? Is He clearing away something old, making room for something new (like a gardener)?

The Creator in Ministry

At the beginning of each school year, college pastors get to see a new stage for God's creating work to take place in. There are new students we meet, who God plans on turning into new creations. Because of the turnover rate of college ministry, the student body on each of our campuses takes on a totally new culture every year, and we get to join God in creating and cultivating something new, by His grace helping to bring light, life, and order into dark and chaotic places.

Over the last few weeks, we have:
  • Frantically advertised our presence on campus so that students looking for a college ministry know we're here for them
  • Met as many freshmen as possible through board game nights, field nights, seminars, helping people find classes, eating lunches and dinners with strangers
  • Sought to plug freshmen into church homes by offering rides to church (and advertising their availability all over campus!)
  • Started to have ministry-specific events like worship nights and Bible classes
  • Started around two dozen new small groups on campus
  • Begun to invite everyone in those small groups into one-on-one Bible studies with pastors and student leaders
  • Other things I can't think of right now!
This is a hectic time of year, but also an exciting and blessed one. I wish I could tell you about every freshman and first-time student leader who I'm excited about this semester, but for now it will have to suffice to say that there are a lot.

Thank you so much if you have prayed for me, checked in on me, or supported me financially. You are the reason I can be a full-time college pastor.

Click here to read a handful of my papers from seminary (if you're interested)!

Click here to listen to my most recent sermons!


Prayer requests

  • Please pray for the many freshmen (and new students of all kinds) that we have met over the past few weeks. Pray for them to find good friends who point them to Christ, and to dedicate themselves to following Jesus during their time in college and beyond.
  • Please pray for our campus pastors and student leaders. While this time of year is encouraging, it is also incredibly exhausting! Pray for physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
  • At the end of September, our campuses all do what we call Fall Camp, which is a unique ministry opportunity, because the students get a lot of time around one another and around their pastors.









Thursday, April 21, 2022

As Wise as Serpents and as Innocent as Doves

 


A group of students at an outreach event a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, we had
the pleasure of meeting Spiderman during this event.



“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. 

Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

Matthew 10:16 (NIV)


The past few months have been marked by a lot of learning and wrestling. I've found myself in seminary classes about global Church history and theology in film. I've been reading and wrestling through a book called The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman- a tour of the Western thought leaders of the last two centuries (people such as Wordsworth, Shelley, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, Reich, and more), and how they exercise extraordinary and unseen influence upon the way people think now. I've found myself in some strange ministry situations that have pushed me to be more perceptive and shrewd. In short, I've been pushed by continued education and by life experiences to be as shrewd as a snake.

Recently, I've felt a counter-push by God to be as "innocent as a dove." While Jesus was a keen observer of people who "knew what was in each person" (as John 2 tells us), and Paul was well-versed in the philosophies of his day, they both pushed those who followed Christ into what in many ways was a simple faith. Jesus' call to his disciples was simple: "Follow me."  Jesus said the Law and Prophets could be summed up in sister commands to love God with all of one's heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as oneself (which He later upgraded to loving others as He loved his disciples). Paul told the believers in Corinth that he was "Afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." (2 Cor. 11:3) While we must not be as wise and shrewd as the serpent, shrewdness cannot teach love.

Which side of this two-headed command from Jesus is harder for you? Do you avoid the shrewdness of the world, leaning towards naïveté in the pursuit of a simple faith? Or do you fail to find intimacy with God because you prefer concepts and control to the risk of relationship? I've found myself in both of these pitfalls at different times. 


Rez Fair

After a couple of off years due to COVID, we've gotten to revive an annual celebration of the Resurrection called Rez Fair, in which a bunch of Christian organizations from UTD (and a couple of churches from the area) come together to celebrate Jesus and share the hope he gives us with our campus. 

As you can see, the day was beautiful and the turnout was encouraging!


Good Friday

I had the joy and the challenge of preaching at our Friday Night Fellowship on Good Friday, and shared about how when Jesus was crushed by us, his goodness and love came out. Listen here: 
https://anyfocus.org/media/good-friday-2/


Prayer

  • Please pray for our students as they enter a tough season of finals. It can be easy to get pulled under from the stress of it (especially for certain majors).
  • Please pray for our students as they prepare for the Student Institute of Campus Ministry- a week-long college ministry training conference in Washington state.
  • Please pray for our students as they finish up the semester and enter the summer- that this would be a time of spiritual growth and not one of regression, as many breaks can be.












Monday, February 21, 2022

I Don't Care What I Think

 

A group of men's pastors (from multiple campuses) appreciating nature together!
From left to right: Drew, Cole, me, and Connor. 


“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; 
indeed, I do not even judge myself.
My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.
It is the Lord who judges me.
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. 
He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness 
and will expose the motives of the heart. 
At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 (NIV)



"Paul is saying something astounding:
‘I don’t care what youthink and I don’t care what I think.’ 
He is bringing us into new territory that we know nothing about. 
His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. 
He is talking about humility – although I hate using the word ‘humility’ 
because this is nothing like our idea of humility. 
Paul is saying that he has reached a place where his ego draws no more attention
to itself  than any other part of his body. 
He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore."
 Timothy Keller in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness


A lot of the pastors and students in FOCUS are currently wrestling through just how pervasive ego is in our hearts. So many emotions, perspectives, and attitudes on the heart that seem to be innocuous or even beneficial can so easily become tainted by ego. The creativity and sacrifice of ambition that we see in God's character can so easily become selfish dreaming. The desire to do well in one's work can come from a fear of failure that is entirely wrapped up in ego. Ego can just as well cause someone to hide themselves in some instances and to broadcast themselves to the world in others. I often become my own worst critic- a clever way to hide my own ego, since I can convince myself that I'm not looking to others for their approval. 

The freedom we see Paul expressing here is freedom from the need to prove our own worth, ability, or purity to ourselves or to anyone else. We can only look to God for that, since He is where our worth, ability, and purity come from in the first place. Just like in Genesis 3-6, our pride, selfish ambition, violence, and more all trace back to us lacking in faith and trying to make a complete picture for ourselves outside of God. 


What I've Been Up To

This has been a very interesting semester so far! We've had a lot of unexpected circumstances that have made it difficult at times for me to find a "rhythm," but I've gotten to see God working nonetheless. Despite a delayed start to school, getting COVID, and having to stay at home during an ice storm, there's still a lot happening.
  • I've gotten to continue to fill gaps and help train up a new generation of students to serve behind the scenes running sound for our Friday Night Fellowship services and for Winter Camp. This has been a learning experience (and at times a difficult one!), but it's making it possible for all of the FOCUS students at UTD to gather together to worship God. 
  • Men's ministry- We recently had our Winter Camp, and there have been so many cool conversations and decisions coming out of it for a lot of people. I've heard from at least 3 guys in the small groups whose leaders I get to mentor that they've started going to church again for the first time in years after camp last month. Guys are also starting Bible studies, getting accountability for sin struggles, and becoming friends rather than acquaintances. It's been humbling to see God do all of this while I've felt sidelined at times from sickness or the need to work around the edges. That's the power of doing ministry together, though! There's always someone stepping in to fill the gaps.
  • Seminary- Two cool updates here! First, I'm now on my 4th class in seminary. It's called Global Christian Tradition, and it's about the history of the church in different continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe) and how different systems of theological thought and worship came out of those times and places. It's giving me a much better understanding of how the Church has arrived at different places on topics like the Trinity, canonization, iconography, and more. Second, I will be going into full-time seminary work for a year starting in July in order to get my seminary degree and open up doors to start a FOCUS chapter at Texas Christian University. I will still be working with FOCUS, but my work time will shift towards a lot of reading and time with people, and less of the planning, administrative stuff that it takes to keep an organization running. I'm humbled to have the opportunity to do this, and excited about both the learning itself and the doors it will open for us to reach a new campus. 

Showcase!

You are cordially invited to Showcase 2022! (Side note: no one says cordially anymore, except when inviting someone to something). 
Showcase is a fundraiser where 100% of the proceeds go toward sending students the Student Institute of Campus Ministry, a week-long leadership training conference in Washington state where students learn how to become missionaries on their college campuses. This was incredibly formative for me when I went back in 2014, and I've watched countless other students (literally hundreds at this point) find passion and wisdom to purposefully disciple others for the remaining years of their time in college (and after that) through this conference.
The Showcase itself is a mixture of a variety show with singers and dancers and an artisan market. The show itself features people who have sung professionally and gotten degrees in theater, an improv comedy troupe, and dancers who have danced professionally and competed at the prestigious Jacob's Pillow Dance festival. The artisan market features paintings, crafted items such as handmade stuffed animals and wooden cutting boards, and some culinary creations such as home roasted coffee beans and pastries. 
Please, please come! And donations are welcome either way!


Prayer
  • Pray for protection and favor with our college campuses! We want to be able to meet together and reach students, but the campus is often forced to change rules and reservations because of COVID.
  • Pray for our students to grow in their involvement in community and in their individual pursuits of God.
  • Pray for Showcase! We've made a decision to send anyone to SICM who we believe would benefit from it and who has shown that they're willing to put effort into raising money to go and make the most of their time there. That being said, finances are really tight for a lot of people, and Showcase is one of the main ways we offset that. 

















Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Life to the Full

Our students during evening worship at Fall Camp. Getting to do something stripped down in an 
outdoor pavilion was such a great experience!


"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
Jesus in John 10:10 (NIV)

“Let us all live snugly without risk, 

and life will soon be little more than a 

thick gelatinous stream of 

comfortability and ignorance.”

Myles Connolly in Mister Blue


It's been a while! I'm sorry for not looping you in on things. 

In short, you haven't heard from me because we have been hitting the ground running in a way that we haven't in a long time. By the time this Fall semester came around, every college campus FOCUS has a presence at had been devoid of any "official" campus life for nearly 18 months. 

That means people who had only been in school for a semester when universities shut down due to COVID are now upperclassmen! 

As they come back onto campus, they are experiencing very different mindsets. Some students feel like they're making up for lost time, and want to hit the ground running in the party scene (which while very small at UTD, is undoubtedly growing). Some students feel frozen by their social anxiety, and by anxiety surrounding the pandemic. Either way, Jesus offers a full life of intimacy and change that looks like neither of those things, but speaks to both of those people. 


So now that we're back on campus, we've been meeting students as much as possible, and God has been so, so good in providing connections and protecting our students. 

Thank you for making that possible!


Fall Camp


We got to do a camp this September for our students, and it was such a fun and meaningful time. The theme of the camp was making and sticking to decision for God- something so relevant and helpful for college students, especially at the beginning of the year.



Michelle, one of our apprentices, talking to the students about Communion.

Nhala (left) and Sion (right) are two of the nicest guys you'll ever meet! Nhala was in my peer
team last year, and continues to serve the community super faithfully, and Sion has been in the
community for years and serves on the worship team. 

Students playing basketball at Fall Camp. I'm passing the ball to Landry like my life depends
on it, because in that moment, it does. Just kidding.

Jadon, here seconds away from doing something
very silly, is a senior this year, and has become
one of my favorite people over the last couple of years.


Prayer

  • Pray for continued safety for our students.
  • Pray for our students to get closer to Jesus, and to find meaningful Christian community in our cores (small groups).
  • Pray for resilience for our student leaders and pastors as we seek to be as present to people as possible. 









 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Celebration and Foundation

 

My beautiful bride (Kaylee) and I. I believe I'm on the left.

"Nehemiah said, 'Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks,
 and send some to those who have nothing prepared. 
This day is holy to our Lord. 
Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'"
Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)
[This verse was shared with Kaylee and I by my friend
and mentor, Brandon, during our wedding ceremony]


I've had quite the time over the last several weeks!
As many of you know, I got married on June 19th. The season of wedding planning and entering marriage has brought a lot of notable things with it.


Celebration and Thanksgiving

This has been such a good time to see all of the ways that God has been good to Kaylee and I. To look around while at our wedding was to see the countless blessings God has given me.

My groomsmen represented the ways that God has provided me with godly, caring friends throughout every course of my life. 
Our officiant, Brandon, represented how God has provided me with mentors who push me towards God and are willing to believe in me enough to entrust me with responsibilities in ministry.
The front rows represented the godly family members in my life whose loving presence and consistent generosity have shaped me into the person I am and provided for my needs as I focus on ministry.
The rows of people represented so many friends and family who have changed my life, and who- somehow- God has used Kaylee and I to show His character to in some way or another. 

There is something powerful to celebrating God's blessings! I didn't really do anything to deserve so many godly, caring, fun, generous friends and family members. 

My heart has been overwhelmed on an almost daily basis with awe and thankfulness to God, and to countless people who have blessed me on my journey through life so far.

If you're reading this, I want to say: thank you so much! 


Foundations in Marriage

One thing that I've encountered over the last 10 days or so is the extent to which I'm in a season of setting foundations for years to come. Transitional periods are so important in this way.

In short, Kaylee and I are learning what it means to become one flesh while continuing to become more centered on Jesus and dedicated to serving others. 

  • One flesh- There's something powerful just about sharing things with someone. We're in the same space together, we're sleeping in the same bed, we're merging bank accounts, merging insurance plans, we're sharing food with one another, and we're learning how much we affect one another's lives and callings
  • Centered on Jesus- The first day after Kaylee and I arrived back home from our honeymoon, I found myself completely crashing in terms of mental energy and overall ability to function well. I took a break to be alone with God (journal in hand), and He essentially told me that He was disciplining me as a reminder to build upon the foundation of Him. I hadn't been seeking God much over the last few days of honeymooning and since arriving back home, and God was showing me how true the words of John 15 are: "apart from me you can do nothing." After spending time with Him, my mental energy immediately returned, and I was able to go back to helping Kaylee with setting our apartment up.
  • Dedicated to serving others- It's already evident to us how easy it will be to simply retreat into one another, shrinking back from meaningful friendship and service. We want to grow up as a couple in community, seeking to be a greater force for the Kingdom than we were before.


Foundations in Ministry

I also find myself in the midst of a season of foundation-laying as a pastor. 
The summer brings with it the chance to lay a few kinds of foundations.

  • Foundations for leadership- We are in the process of thinking through student leaders for the upcoming school year (which is less than two months away!). We are also planning for the first Student Institute of Campus Ministry (SICM) to take place in Texas. This will involve a full week of training students in how to be missionaries and disciple-makers on their campuses.
  • Foundations for ministry partners- The summer is also a time of the year in which we are laying the foundations for our ministry partner teams- people who will support FOCUS pastors in the mission to make and mature disciples on college campuses through their prayer and financial donations, both of which are vital and appreciated


Prayer
  • Please be praying for our staff and our incoming apprentices to be able to reach their goals in fundraising, and to trust that what God provides will be enough
  • Pray for our students to continue to embrace community, prayer, and Scripture so that they can come back to school more centered on God and filled with His heart for their campuses