Monday, December 3, 2012

December Update

I woke up last Monday morning to a phone call about one of our students who passed away in a car accident the evening before.  I barely had two conversations with Ryan Schutze, a freshman at UNT and consistent member in our community.  That day a group was organized to pray for Ryan's family and friends as well as share stories about his life.  I learned a lot about him as several close friends and acquaintances shared stories and prayers.  It became clear very quickly that Ryan tried hard to live his life for Christ.  He was a part of another campus ministry and a fraternity.  In the fraternity he was the chaplain of his pledge class and his reason for joining was to reach out to the people Christians often judge and neglect.  He was known in that group for talking about his faith and retreating to quiet places for prayer and reading of scripture during social events.  It was inspiring to know the purpose he had and see about 300 students show up to his memorial service on campus (the majority being his fraternity brothers).

As the week continued I learned more news of other tragic things happening in various students' lives.  My heart became quite heavy.  I'm reminded of John 11:35 as Jesus weeps for the pain that his friends were feeling over Lazarus' death.  I feel as though the phrase, "Matt wept." could have been appropriately interjected into the transcript of my life this week.  Now I don't tell you all of this to bring your spirits down, because I am trying to make a point.  Please don't think that I'm depressed or not doing well.  I'm doing great!  Just keep reading.

So we had a Christmas service this past Friday night where 3 students, Melissa, and I shared thoughts on the meaning of Christmas.  What I shared (after making an announcement about Ryan passing away) was that though this is a dark time we don't mourn like world does (1 Thes. 4:13-18).  I would go ahead and lump in all of the other things that have been weighing on my heart and say that even though this has been a dark week I don't look at it the way the world might and see only tragedy.  I know God's got it and because of that I have hope.  Now tying this to the meaning of Christmas: Christ came into the world during a dark time as well.  Just imagine what it was like back then.  The Jews were under Roman authority and the king in power, Herod the Great, wasn't afraid to take the lives of many children to try and kill baby Jesus.  And just because he felt threatened!  Jesus' family fled to Egypt until Herod was dead.  That sounds a lot scarier than the world we live in today.  Despite that adversity God had everything under control and Jesus, though a delicate baby, brought life and hope to a dying world.  That's what we are celebrating at Christmas time.

On a lighter note we had a Christmas party Saturday night.  It was a great time to get everyone together to act goofy before finals and everyone leaves for the holidays.  Honestly I wish you could have been there to see.  Everyone was divided into groups of about 8-12 people.  They were assigned different "family traditions" that they had to act out such as singing Christmas carols to other families, making popcorn necklaces, and white elephant gift exchanges (or some families gave their gifts away to other families!) to name a few.  We ended with the cores competing in a musical/skit contest.  This was definitely my favorite part since we have some very creative and talented students in our group.  The best performance, according to the judges, was a group that performed "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and they actually dressed up collectively to form a human Christmas tree:

Next Friday is our last official meeting before the semester is over.  It's wild to think the year is about halfway over.  I'm really happy with how this semester has gone.  I've learned a lot and expect to learn a lot more next semester.  We've got a lot of planning to do in preparation.

Please be in prayer for:
- Ryan Schutze's family and close friends as they are hurting right now.
- The fraternity brothers Ryan impacted to come to Christ through the influence of his life.
- Various other students struggling with tough situations.
- God's guidance as the staff prepares for next semester.
- A productive break for the staff and students.  That we get adequate relaxation but remember to use the time to benefit others rather than make it all about ourselves.

As always, thank you so so much for your continued support.  I'm glad to have so many Godly people consistently in prayer for my ministry to the UNT campus.  It's truly a blessing.  God is GOOD!

Yours for the Campus,


Thursday, November 1, 2012

November Update

It seems like many months have passed since my last update.  October was not a bad month or anything.  Actually it was great!  I've just had a lot on my mind lately.  As I write this I am feeling quite introspective so bear with me.  God has been teaching me quite a few things lately.  One of our student leaders asked me today what I would say "spiritual maturity" is.  I see it as being very similar to general life maturity.  As we grow older we tend to become more aware of what's truly important in life.  We learn that discipline is important if we ever want to accomplish anything and relationships are more important than work, school, accomplishments, etc.  If you don't learn this, people would probably consider you immature.  It's understandable when someone is young and immature, but it's a tragedy to see someone age without maturation.  It's the same thing with spiritual maturity.  We learn what's important in life, but to the Christian, life is eternal so we come to understand what has eternal importance.  We learn that relating to God is of utmost importance and directing others toward their relationships with God is more important than our relationships with those people (and our relationships with people will usually flourish anyway when God is the focal point).  Also we can't expect a newly pronounced Christian to have great spiritual maturity and again it's sad to see a long-time Christian without spiritual maturity.  Each year we have new student leaders that are learning to be more purposeful with their time than they have ever been before (and more purposeful than most of their peers as well).  It's normal for them to not feel genuine as they meet with guys or girls regularly to build mentor relationships.  Instead of seeing them as obligatory and fake it is important for them to build those relationships out of their conviction of the truth.  Out of love for others we often do things that aren't what we feel like doing.  Through that process they learn what the big deal is: truly being someone's friend/biggest fan and teaching them the truth about God.  It's important for us to be challenging ourselves to grow more and more mature spiritually.  We should be asking ourselves hard questions like "Who am I investing in currently?" or "When was the last time I was purposeful in my friendships (with the Kingdom of God in mind)?"  What's quite interesting about spirituality is how different it is than we often think it to be.  Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems like our Christian culture general perceives spirituality to be more so on the emotional side or "beyond the physical".  I say that more in regard to how we might say, "I feel like God is this or that" or by how easily moved we are by singing praise songs or a sense of feeling good from doing a service project.  I think it says something about how we interpret God.  Speaking for myself I am naturally a mood worker so I definitely have to be careful about doing/interpreting things based on the way I feel.  Conversely the spirituality that Christ and his first generation of followers spoke of was more logical and physical.  In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  In Romans 12:1 Paul urges them: "Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice...this is your spiritual act of worship."  The concept is simple, but the depth is tremendous.  I look forward to spending a lifetime consistently trying to understand it more.

Last year during my internship I worked hard to have long-term visions for individual people I mentored.  I wanted to really think about how many lives down the road they could personally impact and help them to really get a sense of that vision.  I believe this to be a very important factor in mentorship because it really helps them to start seeing how they can not only take hold of the vision you have but develop their own.  They are also equipped to reciprocate the process for others!  This year I am trying to add another type of vision development on to that.  My challenge at hand is to really see where our ministry at UNT needs to be moved in the short-term (in comparison to a lifetime).  Over the summer I was merely thinking about this semester, now I'm thinking about next semester and the following school year.  I should probably be thinking further out than that as well.  There are things that need to be thought of to bring about certain changes for the future.  It seems overwhelming, but I have plentiful support from the other staff and ultimately God's got it.  I just have to do my part and work faithfully.  Please pray that I will be able to thoughtfully and prayerfully cast a vision for the ministry and then do my part to bring it into fruition.

Over the past few weeks there have been a few things that have challenged me.  Being a new campus pastor that's not surprising though.  I'm starting to learn more about how complicated ministry can be when everyone looks to me for answers and my decisions affect a lot of people.  Also I'm having to support both male and female leaders now.  Brandon, our director and my primary mentor, has been helping me to prepare for the time that our women's minister, Amy, will be out on maternity leave in about 5 months.  I want to make sure that all of our leaders are supported sufficiently.  Please pray that I will be able to do this.  I would like to add that despite the challenges (which are really great challenges to have in comparison to what I could be facing!) God has been continuing to teach me patience and more so how to find peace in Him.  When I was younger I really struggled with patience so it's no surprise that God has worked on this A LOT with me.  The patience He has taught me has paid off time and time again.  When God allows situations to test my patience I am starting to feel a strong sense of peace and joy.   Maybe you know exactly what I mean by this.  I think in the times that I start to feel unsettled I just turn to Him.  Perhaps through this peace I've found in my Father's love I can avoid the burnout that many ministers these days experience.  That has been a fear of mine as I've come into this role.

I hope that what I have said so far is meaningful to you.  I try not to write too much in my updates to keep from overwhelming you with a lot to read, but I've just had some thoughts I wanted to share.  I would like to share a little more about the UNT ministry in particular before I end though.  Last night one of our new members was baptized!  You can watch the videos here and here.  It's been really exciting this semester to see how much our leaders have been making an effort to start up one-on-one Bible studies.  I have given out nearly 45 of our Focus on Jesus studies to the student leaders who have asked others to study with them.  That is really cool!  I would like to make sure and highlight the student testimony this month as well.  Vianet is one of our new leaders at UNT and has started 4 one-on-one studies with girls she has developed relationships with this year.  All of our leaders have really stepped up this year.  I'm really proud of them!  Please pray that they will not feel overburdened by the combination of ministry, school, and work.

It is truly a blessing to get to serve in the Kingdom through campus ministry.  I know God wants me here so He can teach me some pretty specific things and use me for far better things than I ever dreamed of.  Thank you so much for helping support me.  I really appreciate the various prayerful, relational, financial, etc. gifts that I receive from everyone.

Yours for the Campus,


Monday, October 1, 2012

October Update

So I just made it through my first retreat as a campus pastor!  We just got back from our Fall Retreat Sunday afternoon.  I really wish you could have seen it!  We had over 100 students at Camp Copass (a small retreat center in Denton, TX).  It was a blessing to have the retreat near to campus so several people who weren't able to make it to the entire retreat could come to part of it.  Our main purpose for Fall Retreat is to help our new members become more integrated into the ministry by forming several new relationships.  We don't plan any long teaching times or sermons.  Instead the majority of the time is designed for the students to learn more about each other.  We played some goofy games, listened to a couple of students and a few graduates share about their lives, took communion with each other, and had lots of free time.  Probably the most favored activity of the weekend was the walk and talk.  Essentially everyone is paired up with someone of the same gender by their small group leader to go on a walk and share about themselves.  We did one at the beginning of the retreat and one at the end.  The prompt we gave for the first walk and talk was to share about their spiritual background and at the end of the retreat we asked them to debrief the weekend and share what they learned or what had impacted them the most.  I think it's usually a pretty neat experience for the newer people because it's not normal for them to have such meaningful conversations early on in a friendship.  One of the small group leaders that I live with actually said one of his guys finally clicked with one of the other leaders who he was paired with for a walk and talk.  Now these two guys are also planning to start a one-on-one Bible study.  My roommate told me that this alone made the retreat a success in his mind.  I can't help but agree.

Here are a few pictures of our group:

Due to rain many of our walk and talks became walk and sits :)
This is everyone who was still there Sunday morning.

The basic theme we kept coming back to all weekend (because this is also our theme for the year) is how God has made us new.  You may have noticed the new artwork on our website with the "Everything New" logo.  We took this from Revelation 21:5 when Jesus said "I am making everything new!"  At the retreat we kept asking the question over and over: "How has/is God making you new?"  Our communion time on Saturday night was just amazing.  Halfway through worship I simply prompted them to share how Jesus' death and resurrection has made them new and people shared non-stop for a solid 40 minutes by the time I cut them off.  A few people came up to me later saying they wish they could have been able to share also.  It always brings tears to my eyes when someone (especially someone young) stands up and shares about some intimate way that God has impacted their lives.  This is something I really wish you could have witnessed.  It was especially amazing to see some of the newer people open up because they were encouraged by other people's stories.

Going back to our theme for the year, our sermon series has been really neat.  Amy started it off with how God makes us new and that His purpose is to make us useful again.  Our purpose, or mission, is to reconcile the world with God because that is what He is doing and what he designed us to do.  The next week I talked about what it means to think like new creations.  Everything we do derives from how we think and often we think a lot less than we need to.  God isn't concerned with what we do as much as He is with our underlying motives for doing what we do.  Man judges by mere appearances, but God judges a man by his heart.  Then Brandon followed that by talking about what it means to speak like new creations.  Again, everything you say derives from what you think about.  Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  This week we will be exploring what it looks like to live as new creations.  I would encourage you to think through this as well.  How has God made you new?  How is He making you new now?  How have you been resisting His restoration process?

Again I would just like to thank you so much for your support.  We really put a lot of work into building a Christ-centered community at UNT that is conducive to reaching people and building real relationships.  Things like the retreat this weekend couldn't happen without your help.  I hope that my report on what we do on this campus will bring joy to your heart and be an advance reward for your investment.

Yours for the Campus,


Saturday, September 1, 2012

September Update

This past week I nearly lived the life of a college student at UNT (The University of North Texas, where I am now doing ministry).  It was Welcome Week so there were lots of events every day.  I forgot how draining that can be!  We (Amy, Melissa, and I) have been encouraging the student leaders to think of this as the biggest opportunity to meet new people and develop lasting relationships in order to fulfill the mission of making disciples.  The students took on the challenge we gave them and worked hard to invite new students into their lives.  It was a long week, but I truly think it will yield a bountiful return.

Last night was our Friday Night Fellowship kickoff event.  (By the way, if anyone in the area ever wants to visit on a Friday night, feel free to do so!  We meet on the UNT campus in Matthews Hall room 311 at 7:30pm.  Call if you need any other info. - 817.992.3987)  We nearly packed out a room that seats 144 people.  Keep in mind that this ministry started only 2.5 years ago.  Here are a couple pictures of last night:

Front left is Melissa (our intern) and front right is Amy.

The main agenda last night was for Brad, the former campus pastor, to formally give his blessings to Amy and I leading this ministry.  Then we both shared our stories of how God developed a heart for ministry within us.  I wish you could have heard them!  I almost cried sharing my story and Amy's nearly brought me to tears as well.  The point of that was to help the students begin to know who we are and why we are here.  Many of the students told me later that they really enjoyed that.

So now that the year has finally begun I am really starting to feel much more comfortable with the role God has given me.  It is truly a testament to His power how much He has changed me (even in just the last year) to take this on.  Much of this could not have been possible without you.  I am so thankful to you for that, but even more so I hope you realize the impact you have made on the Kingdom.

I would like to ask that you pray for a few things as well:
- That I will speak pastorally to the students at UNT despite the fact that I am young and look like many of them.  That I will keep in mind the advice Paul gave to Timothy as a young leader (1 Tim. 4:11-12).
- That I will always be growing in my ability to plan meetings and events.  This is so important as the amount of planning directly affects the outcome.  I've always loved that old axiom, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
- That Amy, Melissa, and I will be able to challenge, encourage, and communicate effectively with each other.  That we can lead this ministry through our actions and how we relate with each other.
- That our student leaders will be consistent in new relationships they have developed.  It is vital that we show people what real friendship looks like and what it means to have Christ's love compel us.

Again I am so thankful for you.  Please know that I have been praying for you and the specific requests you have asked me to pray for.  May God continue to bless you!

Yours for the Campus,


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August Update

Our staff retreat this past weekend went very well.  We were able to meet in the house of one of our elders from the Northeast Church (they are the largest supporter of our ministry).  One of the best things about it is we all get to spend some quality time together and purposefully learn more about each other since we added three brand new staff and four interns to our team.  That was accomplished through playing board games, discussing various ministry topics, answering personal questions about ourselves, and simply relaxing together.  We also took some time to talk about each campus' outreach plan for the beginning of school and a few different events to prepare our student leaders for the year.

Our outreach plan for UNT (University of North Texas) is to attend several of the events that the school puts on each year during the first week before school starts.  This is a really exciting time of the year!  The university plans these events primarily for new students to make friends and get involved with student organizations.  Our ministry always spends time strategically planning how the student leaders can utilize these events to develop new friendships with others before they are bogged down by a lot of commitments once school starts.

We have a student leader retreat planned for August 18 & 19th to prepare the students for that week of events.  Again, we are very blessed to be able to meet at one of the large houses here in Denton that several of our student leaders live in.  During that time we will give them some goals and advice to help them stay focused on the mission.  On top of that we will use this retreat, just as we did the staff retreat, to help build the relationships within our team.  This is actually really important this year since all of the staff will be new at UNT and so are many of our student leaders.  You should be able to see Amy (our other campus pastor) and Melissa (our intern) on the page soon.

So I have a few things to ask you to specifically pray for:
- God to lead Amy, Melissa, and I as we lead the students.  Pray that we will be able to develop close relationships with the student leaders this year and work well to lead the ministry through them.
- The student leaders to be mission-minded as they start out the year and utilize this time to make several new friendships for the kingdom.  Pray also that we will all work hard to maintain these new relationships and show them what true relationship looks like.  That's how they will see God in us.
- My transition into this new role.  I'm still a bit nervous, but I know that God will use me in it as long as I am faithful to Him.  Pray that I will have a servant's heart.

Thank you so much for your prayers and support.  I really can't tell you how much I appreciate it.  I cherish the notes and comments that I receive from you.  None of what I do could be possible without you.  May God bless you.

Yours for the Campus,


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Upcoming Staff Retreat

We are going to delay our blog posts until August 6th since we will be having a staff retreat this weekend.  This is our time to spend a few entire days together in fellowship and prepare for the year of ministry on each of our campuses so please be in prayer that God will guide us in that time.  Thank you!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

July Update

Well this is the last month of my internship with FOCUS.  That hasn't changed much of my workload since I will be moving to Denton soon to do ministry at UNT.  There are many things to do in preparation.  I am very excited to make this change, but I'm also pretty nervous.  I will have a lot more responsibility being one of two campus pastors up there.  Please be in prayer for me in that regard.

When I look back on my life I couldn't have imagined while coming out of high school that I would end up where I am now.  My dream back then was to become an electrical engineer and live a life of comfort and materialism.  It has been interesting to see how God changed that during my time in college.  I never would have chosen this for myself and I think that truly validates it, at least in my mind.  It gives me courage despite my insecurity.  Please pray that God uses this opportunity for me to lead a college ministry to do His will.

This Thursday we will be continuing our "Fired Up" sermon series.  Last week Amy Knoles, the other new campus pastor at UNT, talked on being "fired up" about spiritual growth.  This week I will be sharing my thoughts on "fired up" prayer.  I'm really excited about this subject!  Over the past few years I've struggled a lot with trying to figure out what prayer is and how to use it.  That's mainly why I chose the topic.  Ultimately, I believe prayer to be much simpler than we make it out to be.  It's all about finding ourselves in the presence of God and relating to him as Father, Creator, Healer, etc.  We use that time to center ourselves on Him.  It's no wonder Paul taught to pray without ceasing.  Now I ask you to pray that God uses me to speak His words with fervor to the students that night.  I think it's important that they be engaged by this topic so they explore it more on their own after they leave.

We successfully took the second group of 8 students to SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) a couple of weeks ago.  The June conference was quite a bit different as there were the same number of students total, but we were the minority (if you don't remember my post from last month, we took 49 students).  This year I was reunited with a couple of friends who I had originally met and developed friendships with when we had attended the conference as students in 2008.  They were there as campus pastors as well!  How cool is that?  Here is a picture of us:

Me, Liz, and Kristin

Like I've said before SICM is where we take our potential student leaders.  Now that the conference is over we are working hard to develop our leader teams for the coming school year.  The leader team at UNT alone could very well be close to 40 students total.  Just imagine the impact that many young people can have on their campus, especially considering these guys and girls are committed to making disciples of Jesus.

We want to be a light to the campuses and through them change the world as Jesus did in his time.  Pray that God uses us in whatever way necessary to make that happen this year and every year after.  Thanks again for all of your support!

Yours for the Campus,


Thursday, June 7, 2012

June Update

I apologize for not posting until now.  We have been so busy making sure that our summer ministry activities are planned lately that we decided to postpone our blog entries a week.

Well...the summer is off to a great start!  Last week we had our first combined summer FOCUS meeting at a local church in Richardson.  They are graciously letting us gather there for free.  We have a sermon series planned for the students based around the idea of being “fired up” inspired by what Paul says in Romans 12:11 (NIV) – “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”  Each week throughout the summer a different staff member or intern will be delivering the message on a different topic to be “fired up” about.  Last week the sermon was an introduction to the theme and this week one of the other interns will speak on “fired up” worship.  There will be several other topics such as being “fired up” about the mission, having “fired up” relationships, prayer, etc.   

Our UNT (the University of North Texas) chapter is having its own separate meeting on Monday nights up in Denton for the students who can’t make the potentially one hour drive to Richardson and back each week.  To start my transition to UNT I will be leading that meeting with Brandon, the director or our collective ministry.  We are going to work our way through Philippians with that group to see how God’s message inspired that city and how they responded to it.

In the picture below the students are working on an exercise that tied in with the lesson on building strong foundations quickly.  We had talked about how Paul had stayed in Philippi for probably only a few weeks and laid a foundation that lasted.  Just try to understand the magnitude of that: imagine starting a church with some people who just learned the gospel for the first time in the time frame of a few weeks and then leaving them on their own.  Talk about discipleship!  So the implication for our students was to learn how to lay a foundation as an expert builder in their ministry to other students as Paul does with so many of the churches he started and ministered to.

Our School of Ministry discussion groups started last week also.  This is something we offer each summer to provide some sort of graduate level class on the Bible since all of our campuses are secular.  This year we have given the option of doing an Old Testament Foundations or a New Testament Foundations course.  The students listen to the audio recordings of lectures from Regent College (a school in Canada) and meet once throughout the week to discuss with their group.  I’m leading one of the discussion groups on the New Testament and so far it has been pretty interesting.  The professor has lectured for nearly 5 hours so far and is still essentially on the introduction.  He has a tremendous wealth of knowledge, but balances it with an incredible passion for Jesus.  Please pray that this challenges the students to think differently about how they approach Scripture and use it.

SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) a couple of weeks ago was awesome!  If you don't remember, that is the conference in Bellingham, WA we take our potential leaders to each year so they can spend time learning how to do campus ministry.  I think it says a lot when the students hear the same messages they hear back home from the ministry leaders in Washington.  It gives a greater sense of vision and unity of the Church at large.  This is probably the biggest reason we like to send students to SICM.  UCM (University Christian Ministries), the ministry that runs SICM, has been doing campus ministry for 40 years now so they have a lot to teach our group.  We took 49 students and 5 staff this time!  It’s such a good experience for each of the students because they spend the whole week learning how to disciple other students effectively on their campus back home.  The student who shared his testimony this month on the Staff Updates page talks about the impact of SICM on his life.  I suggest reading it if you have a chance.  The students also get to stay with a host family who provides their meals throughout the week and usually will spend time with them in the evenings.  My host family this year had two kids so my three roommates (all students) and I had an all out Nerf war with them one night.  The cherry on top is that the conference is in Washington State so everything is absolutely beautiful.

What’s really neat is we get to send at least 8 more students up to SICM in a couple of weeks since they offer a conference in both May and June!  Please be in prayer for this group as well.

These are pictures of my host family:

These are some other pictures from SICM:

Please be in prayer for us throughout the remainder of the summer as we fundraise for our ministry.  Our staff has grown in order to adequately support the growth of our students this year.

Thanks again for all of the support you have given.  I can’t say that enough.  I get to see God do a lot in the lives of these students, but it wouldn’t happen without people like you providing prayer and/or finances.  May God bless you for that.

Yours for the Campus,


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Update

We are now at the last two weeks of the semester.  I'd like to ask you to be in prayer over the things on our updates page.

When I think back over the year I see that God has taught the guys I've been mentoring quite a bit.  I remember one guy who was involved in the Bible study with David who had eventually asked to stop.  Originally I started the study, but then later it was taken over by James while I sat in for support.  That was his first time to lead a Bible study.  Another one of our student leaders started his first study with a guy and has learned a few lessons about confronting him about certain issues.  Often learning confrontation and being real with people is one of the more powerful lessons for students.  Following Christ requires boldness as we see in the apostles and Christ himself.  Another guy that I've put a good deal of time into this semester has been studying with a kid who seems to be emotionally unstable.  That has been a real growing experience for him especially considering he isn't naturally inclined to be very relational with people.  Lately he has been asking me questions about developing relationships with people especially when it feels unnatural.  It's neat to me to see that he is taking so much initiative in trying to change himself to be more effective for the kingdom.

My Bible studies with Greg and Preston are still going well.  We won't be finished by next week since it takes about 3 hours to get through a lesson with each of them and we generally only meet for half of that each week.  That's not a problem because we can just continue to meet over the summer.  Anyway Greg has been struggling with some things lately and I've been making sure to talk to him nearly every day to check in and help him keep his focus on God.  It's really made our friendship deeper by having that much interaction, even if it isn't much more than a text message asking how his day went.  I have been challenging Preston to continue to go deeper in examining himself while reading the word.  He grew up in church so I don't think he has ever really had to think deeply about his faith.  It's definitely a skill that needs to be developed!

In core we have wrapped up by talking about what we learned this year so that we could see how God has changed each of us and where he is leading us moving forward.  I think it's really important to help these guys see what God has done.  It's easy to miss, but when realized can be a great source of encouragement.  Just as important as that is giving them a vision of how they can continue to grow and the impact they can make on the kingdom.  Last week we had an encouragement time where we shared how we saw Christ in each other and spurred one another on toward increasing that trait.  Tonight will be our last official meeting for the semester as exams are next week.  We will be having a fun event which has commonly been called Core Prom.  The plan is to dress up then go out to eat and bowl.  We always have a lot of fun together so I'm sure tonight will be really enjoyable.

We had an event a couple of weeks ago called Help us Help the Homeless on campus.  Basically we took about one hundred cardboard boxes and built a fort outside the main entrance to the school to raise awareness of homelessness in Collin County.  We collected various donations for the only homeless shelter in the county, The Samaritan Inn (  Overnight some of the guys, including myself, slept in the fort!  It was pretty uncomfortable, but I think we made a good statement by doing so.

Recently, we have been going through Paul's letters in our intern Bible class.  It's a continuation of what we have been doing all year long: going through each book of the New Testament.  We just finished talking about 1 Thessalonians yesterday.  Reading each book with the mindset of understanding what Paul was trying to do, especially considering the big picture of his different missionary journeys, has made a huge impact on how I read scripture now.  Not only that, but I have majorly expanded my understanding of all sorts of topics like faith and grace by thinking deeply on what Paul explains.  He really is one of the most amazing writers, but he was undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Ronnie, the pastor at Northeast church and our teacher for this class, has always reminded us that our foundation should always be found in Christ's words rather than Paul's.  It's important to remember that Paul was just a man and Christ is our Lord.  Sometimes when I say that I have to take a few moments to really let what that means sink in.  Christ is our Lord...

Again I would like to ask for you to pray over our body of students as a whole and for the guys I have had the opportunity to spend time with directly.  I will still see most of them over the summer so please continue to pray for us.  Thank you again and again for all of the support you have provided me over the last nine months.  God has really blessed it.

Yours for the Campus,


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April Update

The school year is wrapping up!  Cores and Bible studies will be ending soon.  For a lot of students this is a time for making a decision to follow Jesus.  We have had several baptisms already over the last couple of weeks.  I wanted to share one with you here:

Alex's Baptism (sorry this is kind of long and hard to hear at times)

Please pray that other students will be led to make decisions like this, but that they would also count the cost before doing so.  One of our goals is to share with them the whole truth of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus so there are no surprises later.  At the same time we don't want anyone to be a halfway committed Christian so we do lead them to a decision.

Over the next few weeks in core we plan to wrap up a series on purity talking about being whole for God.  An example we got from Brandon to demonstrate how unappealing it is to be even a little impure was offering a water bottle to anyone in the group who was thirsty.  When someone said that they would like one, I opened it up and spit in the bottle.  Of course no one wanted the water anymore even though my saliva was only 1% of the bottle's contents.  If we really want to give God our best we can't be content with spitting in what we offer to him.

After that talk we plan to spend a week taking stock of what each guy has learned this year in regard to God and how to live for Him.  It will be a great time for them to remember what those things were and if they haven't put them into action yet to formulate a plan to do so going forward.  This will help them to get a vision of what their lives can look like as core ends for the summer or as some of them transfer to other schools.  The idea is to get them kingdom focused.  To help facilitate that even more we are planning to have an encouragement time the next few weeks.  In this time each guy will be able to share how they've seen each person grow over the year or the impact they have had on their lives plus challenge them in areas they could grow as well.  This is so often a very meaningful and intimate time.  Please pray that God will use it to move these guys to where he needs them in the future.

My Bible studies with Greg and Preston are going great!  There are a lot of penetrating questions throughout this study as it uses scripture to examine their hearts.  This definitely makes some people feel uncomfortable.  A lot of people these days are afraid of the truth.  Just look at the culture around us.  How do you even know what is real anymore with TV, the movies, video games, the Internet?  Our culture tells us that we have the power to do anything on our own if we are dedicated enough.  God wants us to put our faith in him.  This world is tough to live in and often things are not easy, or even possible, to handle on your own.  Our job as ministers is to teach people to trust in God.  "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."  Greg had trouble with giving up control at first when we met last school year, but God has really changed his heart over time.  It's one of the most encouraging things to me personally because of how sad I was when he quit for the time in between.  What God has done in Greg's life is surely praiseworthy!  Preston isn't having the same difficulty, but I would ask that you pray for him to continue to be open to God's word and strive to challenge himself.

I'm sad to say that my friend David no longer seems to be interested in any sort of relationship as I have not been able to reach him lately.  I can understand that he didn't have an interest in doing the Bible study, but it's painful that he has removed himself from my life completely.  Please pray that God is with him wherever he goes.

Kenneth and I are still able to get together occasionally although it hasn't been to continue our study of the Bible.  I'm still not entirely sure what his reasons are for stopping, but I'm glad that he still comes to me for support and lets me speak into his life.  It may be that it was just too intense for him to have an hour and a half spent on deep discussion of how Biblical principles apply to his life, but perhaps he would be more engaged by smaller chunks or one thought at a time.  I ask that you would pray for me to be led by the Spirit and be able to efficiently minister to Kenneth.

One pretty neat thing that God has done through Kenneth is in regard to an 18 year old kid he has been ministering to for the past few years.  Essentially this kid has become entangled in a bunch of his own lies and now he has started to believe a lot of them.  He is really hurting his relationships with his family who loves him and he decided this weekend to move out of his parents house.  Kenneth convinced him to at least stay at the house I live in with four other guys in our ministry so that he will have some positive influences.  Hopefully God will use this situation to teach him something.  I can't help but think about the story of the prodigal son in relation to this kid.  My prayer is that he will one day realize the mistake he made and return to his parents who desperately want their son back.

On another note we are going to fly over 50 students up to Washington this summer for SICM in May!  And another smaller group in June.  It's so exciting to see how God has moved in our ministry to impact that many people to step up and lead in ministry.  Please keep these students in your prayers that they can take advantage of the opportunity to learn while on the trip and that they can put it into action in their lives next year and beyond.

Thanks again for everything you do!  May God bless you.

Yours for the Campus,


Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Update

I have learned so much this year through my internship with FOCUS.  It has provided me with the environment and resources to develop the ability to minister to people and grow closer to God.  Although high-paced and stressful at times it has brought me intense joy.  Right now others are applying for next year's internship program. The staff will be interviewing them and by the end of March we should know who all the interns will be next year.  That's pretty exciting!

Another thing I'm excited about is SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry).  It is a one week campus ministry training conference hosted in Bellingham, WA, by a college ministry that we model our ministry after in many ways.  Their ministry is called CCF (Campus Christian Fellowship).  Students who have shown potential to be leaders next year have been invited to attend the conference in order to give them a head start on learning how to disciple other students next year.  I was invited to go to this after my freshman year back in 2006.  It gave me many of the tools necessary to be a spiritual leader.  People will often compare SICM to drinking from a fire hose because there is so much information that they have you process in a short amount of time.  It is essentially a class that meets every day for about 8 hours all week long.  By the end of the trip they have at least one 3-ring binder full of paper, which continues to be a resource years later.  The incredible thing is that even though it is heavily academic they include an element of deep, sincere worship that I have rarely witnessed before, if ever.  Anyway this year we will probably send about 70 students from our four campuses to one of the two sessions in May and June!  Please pray that these students take the decision to go seriously.

Here are some links in case you want to check them out:

In core the goal has been to get the guys to engage more with God, His word, and each other.  So Austin and I have tried to create activities and discussion that promotes these things.  This week we asked them to bring a meaningful song, scripture, thought, or just something God has laid on their heart to share, and then we took time to write out our own psalms to or about God.  Some of the guys shared what they had written and it was such a neat thing to hear what was on their hearts as well as how they conveyed it.  Ronnie talks a lot about how he writes psalms on occasion and that in addition to the plethora of psalms that David has written has made me wonder if there is something behind pouring out my heart to God on paper regularly.  Thinking back on when I did so this week it did help me to shift my focus back to God and my perception of myself became more accurate.  I've kind of debated on whether or not I wanted to share what I wrote on here, but I decided that it doesn't matter whether or not I feel comfortable sharing.  Instead, if it somehow inspires one of you then it is worth it.

Of Matt.  A psalm.

Why am I so disobedient when you are always faithful?  Please rescue me from where I've gone on my own.
How are you faithful even though I'm not?
My trust in you is weak and my faith small, but you have grown it slowly over the years.
Even though I'm far from perfect I can promise you one thing: I'll never leave you; you will always be my God.
With that in mind I will persevere through the troubles of this world knowing that your love for me is unfailing.
Father I ask that you teach me to be like you; help me to love like you have loved me!
Your ways are good and your timing is perfect.  I won't expect an immediate change, because part of growing is learning patience.
God, make me a patient man!  Teach me to be still and wait for you.  Pour out your wisdom on me.
Make me whole and make me yours.


The Bible study with Greg is going very well!  He has become much more serious about making time for God and community.  He reaches out to me when he needs encouragement or advice.  It's been such a blessing getting to stand next to him and help him stay strong in the Lord.  Please continue to pray for him.

I started another Bible study with a guy named Preston who has started coming to core.  He has a great heart as well.  I met him playing ultimate frisbee over a year ago and he started coming to FOCUS through the relationships he made there I believe.  All last school year he would tell me that he was planning to come to core, but never showed up.  This year he has made it a much higher priority to seek out God's community.  When I asked him to study the Bible he was excited to say yes.  Please pray for his continued desire to grow.

Morgan and my study with Kenneth has continued to be a challenge at times.  Please pray for two things here.  1) that Kenneth will realize how important Morgan and I consider that time and take it more seriously.  2) that Morgan will really learn a lot from this experience of teaching someone else about the Bible and continue to make that a part of his life after this study ends.

James, one of the younger student leaders, and I started a Bible study with that new guy I mentioned last month named David.  It's a similar situation to the Bible study with Morgan and Kenneth.  James has never led a study before and it's more comfortable to have someone with experience there to back you up.  I have every bit of confidence that he could do it on his own though.  This study also needs prayer.  We have been meeting for two weeks now and it really seemed like David was learning a lot and enjoying that time.  Unfortunately he texted me today to say that he didn't want to do the study anymore because he doesn't have the time to commit to it right now.  I was very sad to hear that and just lightly challenged him to rethink the importance of learning how to follow Jesus and let me know next week if he still wants to stop.  Please pray that God guides him in his decision.  I'm willing to accept that maybe this Bible study isn't what he needs right now and if quitting allows him to do what God is wanting, then so be it.

The FOCUS staff is currently reading through a book called "Spiritual Leadership" written by Henry and Richard Blackaby.  One of the topics we discussed last week was practicing unhurried time with God.  The author's main point is that we have to spend time with God if we are going to be led by him and "the key is not whether leaders spend time with God but whether the time they spend is unhurried and allows time for all God wants to say (Isa. 64:4)."  He also says, "If leaders attempt to do things in their own strength and wisdom, they will achieve commiserate [sic] results.  If leaders wait upon the Lord, they will experience what God can accomplish."  He made a pretty bold claim later that caused us to really think about whether or not it was true: "God does not reveal his truth on people's terms.  Spiritual leaders must remain in prayer as long as necessary until they are certain they have heard from God."  Part of me wants to say that I don't think we have the right to expect God to answer us like that and the other part of me wonders if I'm just thinking about it too close-minded.  I can't say that I have ever simply taken the time to wait for God to respond so I don't really have the right to say it's not possible.  Well anyway our director challenged us all to practice unhurried time with God over the next few weeks.  It's really hard!  Somehow as Americans we have developed this habit of always being way too busy.  It's sometimes hard enough just to set aside time for God in the first place so when I get around to it often I'm in too much of a rush or too exhausted to really make that time meaningful.  As I've attempted to spend more unhurried time with God it has made me think more about what I'm going to talk to him about.  What should I be telling or asking him?  I already pretty regularly unload my thoughts and feelings on God so that wasn't really an issue, but I rarely ask him to reveal how he wants me to grow and in what ways I should be actively changing myself.  In addition to that I need to ask for more guidance in leading others to him.  It doesn't stop there though.  I also realized that this time was perfect for actually writing out tangible plans to implement these revelations.  I mean if I'm already spending time with God discovering the "what" I might as well take advantage of having him help me figure out the "how."

I hope that all is going well with you and that you are able to enjoy the amazing weather outside.  Please let me know if you have any thoughts on my blog update or if you'd just like to let me know what's going on in your life.  I love to hear from you.  Thanks again for every way that you support me and my ministry.

Yours for the Campus,


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February Update

A lot of good things have been happening!

For one, we have had a lot of new visitors at our events.  I met a new guy named David and stuck with him throughout our Thursday night meeting.  Afterward when everyone went to hang out at the Allen house (one of our ministry houses), I invited him, but he said he had a pretty stressful day and didn't want to be around a bunch of people.  I asked him if he wanted to go get some dinner one-on-one instead and just talk, so that is exactly what we did.  It's really neat getting to follow through with people like that instead of just meeting them and then walking away.  I'm convinced that's the main reason why we have so many people who feel blessed by our ministry and decide to stick around.  I can't even count the number of times I've been in a church and felt uncomfortable because I didn't know anyone.  A quick hello at the door is nice, but it only goes so far.  People crave relationship.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine, named Greg, who I studied the Bible with last school year before the internship.  He actually backed out halfway through the 10 week study because he had a lot of other things going on in his life taking up his time and I think he struggled with being challenged.  He told me last week that he wanted to continue the study and I found out that he had been attending one of the other cores this past year.  I was thrilled to hear that because he really has a great heart and I know the Lord can use him to impact people's lives.  Pray for him and his pride!

My Focus on Jesus study with Kenneth is pressing on slowly but surely.  This week I am bringing another student into that study as well.  Morgan just finished going through FOJ with me a couple of weeks ago and one of the most important parts of being a disciple is making more disciples.  Therefore I am going to help him transition into a teaching role for that.  My plan for that will be to meet with Morgan weekly outside of our meeting with Kenneth, go over how to teach it, and discuss any questions he has.  First he will just sit in to observe while adding any extra thoughts or questions, and later he will be doing the teaching and I'll be observing.  I am really excited about that!  I know he is going to do a great job, but keep that in your prayers as well.

Austin, my co-small group leader, and I are starting to think of one word goals for each of our guys in core.  The purpose is to be more strategic in mentoring them through the remainder of the year.  If we narrow things down to one aspect that we think they could grow in, it will be more attainable.  For some it is getting deeper in their relationships to other guys while for others it is preparing to transfer to a four year university and keep their trust in God strong.  I may post those up next month so that you can pray over them.  Please pray now that Austin and I will be guided in that process.

In our intern class we have been talking about what salvation by faith means.  It's an idea that Paul talks about pretty heavily in Romans.  I wanted to include some of my thoughts that I had written down in the hopes that it may inspire you to think some.  Try not to analyze it too much.  I wrote it like a journal entry so it's just my pure thoughts on paper...or a screen.

What is salvation by faith exactly?  When I really want to understand something I start with breaking down the words and asking what does each mean individually and how do they affect the whole?

In my mind faith = trust.  It is action driven by belief.  Trust is proven when you believe someone based on no evidence.  Faith is exactly that.  I think this is why people often call it blind faith.  In a sense it is blind, but then again we don't usually trust people without reason.  Someone trustworthy typically gives countless examples of fulfilling a promise.  It's not so much that they did one thing that caused you to put your faith in them, but rather the way they live their life indicates that they will come through for you.  So instead of having empirical evidence that they will do what they say in this specific situation you have evidence of this person coming through over and over again in other situations.  When you think about it that way you realize there is no way to prove that someone will do something they say they will.  All faith (and trust) is essentially blind in that sense.  I only mention faith in a promise for the future because anything else would be outside the scope of this discussion; salvation by faith.  If we are saved by our faith, which is from first to last, then it seems salvation would come at the end meaning salvation will be obtained in the future.  That being said I think God has given us plenty of reasons to trust him.  I would be crazy not to put my faith in him and his son.

According to the Vine's expository dictionary Paul uses the Greek word "soteria" in Romans 1:16 to denote "deliverance, preservation, salvation" which is used in English as the word "salvation" to mean of the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept His conditions of repentence and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained and for this purpose the gospel is the saving instrument.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus, being God's son, gave his life in place of ours since the wages of sin is death.  Jesus says that God gave his only son so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.  Paul writes in Romans 3:25 that God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  I think back to the Passover to help me understand this last statement better.  When the Isrealites put the lambs blood on their doorposts they believed this act would save them.  In a similar way it is our belief that Christ's blood will save us that actually saves us.  People have a hard time believing that a good God would refuse to save a good person just because they didn't believe in him.  I bet there were some "good" people who didn't put the blood on their doorposts and their firstborn son was killed that night.  God lays out his stipulations pretty clearly and the root issue isn't that God is mean, but that we have disobedient hearts.  We think we know how to get around it.  Other times our insecurities take over and we are afraid that maybe God isn't going to make things work out the best way.  Both of these are the opposite of faith.

I often remember the analogy that Brandon presented to me of two men meeting in a restaurant.  One says they have a bomb on them and it's about to explode.  So the other runs out of the building.  The question is, "Was it that second man's belief that saved him or the action to run out?"  The answer is both.  Well this analogy is generally used to show that faith and works go hand in hand, but it also points out that faith is the foundational element to salvation.  The man wouldn't have run out of the building if he didn't believe what the other man said.  There are a lot of ways that you could look at that story, but ultimately the man simply proved his faith in the other man by running out of the building.  Had he not run out there would have been no faith.  I can just imagine Jesus standing there after the building explodes saying to the man who ran out, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Last, but not least, we had our Winter camp just a few weeks ago!  Excitement always surrounds this event and most of the time people don't even know why.  One of my friends from when I was a student at UTD used to start counting down the days to the next Winter camp the day after we got back from the most recent one.  I started to consider this year why it is that we all enjoy camp so much.  I think the main thing goes back to how purposeful we are as leaders to look for and be aware of people, especially new people.  It's just like the follow through I was talking about at our large group meetings.  We gear all of our activities around building new relationships while strengthening current relationships.  Since we had all four campuses there and around 270 people total it wasn't hard to find someone you didn't know.  Some of the different ways we facilitated this relationship building is by instilling in our student leaders an importance of making their time purposeful with their small group members.  Often the biggest thing is just thinking of some goals for them.  We also had the well known "walk and talks" where students get in gender specific pairs to walk around the camp and learn about each other.  This is a favorite among most people.  During our evangelism session we had the students pair up with someone they didn't know at all to do role playing exercises.  This was to prepare them for the new semester to meet new people in their classes, but it also provided the opportunity to make yet another new connection.   There was a lot of free time during camp to play sports, board games, read/write/reflect, or just visit with other people.  It may sound odd that I think this is probably the most important part, but it is where students connect with others.  When you consider the strategic way we spend time with each other I think it's easy to see how free time can become a powerful tool in building God's community.

The Collin Group


Let me know if you have any thoughts, reflections, questions, concerns, requests, etc.  Thank you for ALL of your support!  God has truly blessed me with you.

Yours for the Campus,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January Update

Hello again!

Winter Camp is this weekend from Friday evening through Monday at noon.  It is our biggest event all year long and one of the most interesting opportunities as you get to see our entire FOCUS family for almost three straight days.  That's over 200 people.

At our staff retreat this past weekend we took some time to finalize a few plans for Winter Camp, some events during the semester, and our summer ministry.  We also looked at the rest of the school year and the next five years in a broader sense.  We started out by journaling and discussing how much God wants us to plan and strategize and how that fits in with the idea of being purposeful.  Paul writes in 1 Cor. 9:24-27 about figuratively running in such a way to get the prize and how he beats his body to make it his slave.  It's undoubtedly difficult, but our goal should always be to work hard to further God's kingdom.  These thoughts were coupled with the question of how can we "wait on God" without just sitting around being lazy?  This is obviously a balance because there are some things we need to wait patiently for, but many times when we don't feel like we have any direction from God we just need to be doing what we know Jesus would tell us to do: make disciples, serve people, etc.  If you know God, you know his will.  Consider Matthew 25:14-30 when Jesus tells a parable about a master leaving some money with his servants while he is gone.  There is no indication that he tells them what to do with it, but the one servant who is called a "wicked, lazy servant!" in the NIV was the guy who did nothing with it.  I kind of get the feeling that the master would have been happier if the servant had even lost the money but at least tried to gain a profit.  That's just my speculation though.

We also talked about our core strategic goals for the ministry keeping in mind the bigger picture of the next five years.  Here are most of what we came up with:

- Making and maturing disciples of Jesus
- Developing leaders who lead other leaders
- Reaching the lost
- Changing lives
- Planting more ministries on other college campuses around us
- Equipping leaders now to be able to lead campus ministries later
- Keeping diversity so we aren't an exclusive group
- Maintaining a close knit community even as we grow

Although I was looking forward to the retreat because it meant getting to spend quality time with the people I love, I was honestly dreading the talks a little.  We dig deep and that can get exhausting after several hours.  Regardless I really enjoyed it despite my feelings in the beginning.  It's like how I have mentioned before that I wouldn't be looking forward to studying the Bible with a student after working behind a desk dealing with crazy people for 8 or 9 hours, but I did it anyway and was energized through teaching God's truths.  It's odd that we can be so resistant to things that are truly good.

The idea of planning and creating strategies for our ministry got me thinking about how much I lack in doing that in my personal life.  I definitely plan things out and live by a calendar, but I don't necessarily put a lot of energy into seeing the big picture or trying to flesh out the details of how to handle certain areas of life better.  There are all sorts of things that can be done better like creating a timeline including what you want to accomplish by certain times, budgeting money or time/finding ways to reduce spending and increase savings, or keeping notes about people you're mentoring so that you can more effectively teach them.  Even just taking five minutes each morning and an hour at the beginning of the week to plan out what you need to get done and when is highly effective.  These are all things I intend to improve on.

Anyway, please pray for our camp, the rest of the school year, and the guys I'm reaching out to.  I really appreciate all of your support.  Thank you so much!

Yours for the Campus,


Monday, January 2, 2012

Welcome to 2012

Happy New Year!

I hope you are all doing well.

Not a whole lot has gone on since my last update so as a staff we are not going to be posting our monthly updates until after our staff retreat this weekend, where we will plan for the rest of the year.  At that time I will be able to share what we will be doing this semester and talk about what we did at the retreat.

I would like to leave you with some thoughts for now.  With another New Year comes New Year's resolutions.  I think we, as a whole, often take these resolutions pretty lightly.  Why else is there an increased number of people on the treadmills at the gym in January and by February or March it's back to normal?  It is often hard to change a lot of things all at the same time instead of focusing on just one or two aspects of your life.  I think it helps to space your resolutions out across the year.  Also it's important to make sure that your goals are SMART (Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) to help in accomplishing them.  This year one thing I want to be more disciplined in is journaling at least 2 or 3 times every week.  Writing helps me to draw deeper thought out of my mind and organize it in a way that is more tangible.  This is a great way to take scripture and other life experiences and write out my questions and thoughts on it.  If I don't take the time to get my thoughts on paper they generally dissolve into nothing instead of being applied to my life.