Monday, December 1, 2014

December Digest

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving holiday! It's hard to believe that it's already December (even though we all say that every year, right?). Yesterday morning I accidentally wrote the date in my journal as 9/30/14 and didn't realize it until Sarah mentioned that it was November several minutes later. She, on the other hand, keeps accidentally writing the year as 2015 already. Time is complicated I guess. But there are more important things to talk about...

Coming Up

This is the last official week of classes and finals begin on Saturday at UNT and TWU. Unfortunately, we aren't allowed to meet on campus at our normal time this Friday because it is a "reading day." We typically have our Christmas party off campus in place of it. That will be our final time together as a ministry before the break.

We will also be having a prayer service project on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Our group will disperse across the campus in order to pray and cheer people on for their finals next week. Hopefully we will have some small items (like pencils) with encouraging statements on them to give out!

Reflection

Yesterday morning at our Denton church meeting I was reminded of how thankful I am for the people God used in my life to draw me to Him.

I thought about when I was a brand new student at UTD. I had taken no initiative on my own to seek out a Christian community despite my upbringing in the Church. One night I was lost on campus after a late night event. The person I asked for help finding my apartment just happened to invite me to visit her ministry, called FOCUS. Despite my lack of effort the Lord sought me out.

With my roommate at the time I visited FOCUS. We sat in the back and made little effort to meet people, but I did fill out a card to join a core group. I didn't visit FOCUS again, but got a call from a guy to come to his core meeting. Even though I wasn't persuaded by my visit to FOCUS, the Lord kept pursuing me through a more personal approach.

The guy who invited me to his core eventually asked me to study the Bible with him. God used that friendship and study to challenge my faith. I learned to think deeper about my relationship with God and my understanding of who He is. I still had no idea what He was doing though.

During the following years I was asked to lead in various capacities, eventually finding myself in my current role. I would have never gone down this path on my own. It wouldn't have even been a consideration in my mind. God aggressively invited me onto this path. If he hadn't, I would have missed out on something amazing. If he hadn't, I would have surely led myself into a miserable place. I did nothing to earn it, yet the Lord continued to draw me and hasn't ever stopped.

It makes me wonder though. How many times did I miss hearing His voice before college? Was that simply His timing or was I that dense?

Regardless, I'm very thankful that God was persistent in drawing me to Him. I'm thankful that He used my parents and a few other people to develop me into someone who would eventually respond to Him. It's unbelievable how much He has done for me, but that's what we should expect from the Almighty Yahweh, right? God is good!

So what about you? How has the Lord brought you to where you are today? Who are the people He placed in your life to initiate with you? How have you responded to His attempts?

FOCUS 140

You may already know, but FOCUS has launched our first annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative. The goal is to raise one-time donations in order to financially sustain the growth of our ministry. The primary way we intend on growing in the new year is by planting campus ministries at UTA and possibly NCTC in the fall. Check out the FOCUS 140 video below and if you want to support the vision, you can donate here!


If you have any questions about the FOCUS 140 project, feel free to ask me about it!

Prayers


  • Pray for our prayer service project to be a successful way to serve the universities.
  • Pray that our students do well on their finals (Dec. 6-12) and have safe travels.
  • Please pray for our students over the winter break. Especially for newer disciples who have grown spiritually this semester it can be easy to revert to old habits while around family or old friends and disconnected from their Christian community. Our core facilitators will be making an effort to keep all of their group members connected in some way even it is just an occasional phone call.
  • Keep our core facilitators in your prayers: that their winter break would be restful so they are refreshed and ready for the new semester.
  • We also need lots of prayer for our students to come to Winter Camp (Jan. 16-19). It's a challenge to get college students to sign up for anything in advance. If that wasn't enough, our last large group meeting before Winter Camp is the Christmas party this Friday! Our leader team will have to contact people one-on-one, but we will do whatever it takes!
  • Pray for the FOCUS 140 project and for guidance in our efforts to plant new ministries.

Thank you for your support! I'm blown away by the ways God blesses me through His people.


Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November News

As I sat down to write this and reflected on the past month I was surprised at how fast the time passed. It's the one month in the fall semester where routines are generally solidified and everyone (students and staff) has found a groove for ministry, school, and work. Then November rips everyone out of that routine as the holidays approach, studying for finals begins, and we prepare the students both practically and spiritually for the winter break. To put things in perspective, we have three more big group meetings, then we won't meet the week of Thanksgiving, the next week we can't meet on campus, then finals, and everyone is gone. That's just the nature of college ministry!

Fall Camp

Fall Camp went very well! We had almost 150 students at Mount Lebanon Camp down south of Dallas. I talked in my last post about our goal for camp being to relationally integrate new students into the ministry through various activities and talk about how to deepen relationships with God and people. Each year we do this event I wonder if it's worth all of the work to prepare for a 24 hour camp and I'm always astounded by how effective it is at facilitating new friendships. I guess it's no surprise that bringing a bunch of students into the same space for several hours in a row, challenging them to develop deeper relationships, and giving them opportunities to talk one-on-one with other students actually creates the perfect setting for relational deepening.

Last year we tried to replace Fall Camp with Park Day (6-8 hours spent at a nearby park doing similar activities). The idea was that more people would be able to make it if it was a closer, shorter, and an "easier to come late or leave early" event. Unfortunately, less people actually came! Plus the setting was far from ideal for initiating or deepening relationships with the shorter time frame, many people not staying the whole time, and no overnight experience. Park Day was a great learning experience to say the least!

Leadership Conference

This is a conference that our family of churches started last year in order to cast the vision for how we are going to further the Kingdom. This year's conference was better than last year's (which was already really good), but instead of telling you about what happened there I wanted to share something really encouraging. Take a look at this picture and keep reading:
From our network of ministries (3 churches, 3 universities, and 3 community college campuses) the attendance was about 75-85% college students. Think about that. It's a Christian leadership conference lasting from 8:30am to 5:30pm on a Saturday which was predominantly attended by college students. These students are developing a deep commitment to the Lord and learning how to lead others through that. They are young men and women who God will use to change the world. Now that is exciting!

Please keep us in your prayers!

Pray that our student leaders will be able to end the semester well with their core groups, one-on-one studies, etc. Also be praying that each of our members will be able to effectively use the upcoming holiday breaks to rest, reflect on their year, and be purposeful in spending time with their family, friends, and the Lord.

Pray for guidance as we explore the possibility of starting ministries at UTA and NCTC (a community college district in the Denton-ish area). There are a handful of students who are interested in either transferring to UTA for studies. Also we have a couple of graduates who are interested in moving to Arlington to work and support that ministry. Several students have also expressed interest in doing the FOCUS internship at UTA if we started something there. Additionally, one of our UNT student leaders ran into a NCTC student last week who is currently trying to start a Bible study group there because there aren't any campus ministries. Hopefully we can work together to do something on that campus!

Please also be praying that God provides us with a Christian counselor in the Denton area who we feel good about referring our students to. There is just a great need for professional counseling that my staff and I are not equipped to fulfill. It's incredible the number of people who have had to live with very seriously painful experiences. It's often difficult for college students to find the help they need in order to deal with those experiences in healthy ways either because of cost and/or embarrassment. There are two great counselors we normally refer our students to who charge $30-50 per hour, but they both work about 45+ minutes away from Denton and many of our students do not have cars. Anyway, I ultimately trust that God will provide what we need, but please be praying for us to see how He intends to do so.


Thank you so much for your thoughts, prayers, concerns, financial support, and relationships. I thank God often for all of the people who believe in what we're doing on the college campuses. That encouragement is one of the ways He gives me strength!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October Update!

Thank you for all of your prayers for our core groups, stronger relationships within the ministry, and stress. It's very encouraging to know I have people praying over my ministry!

With the new month I've got a few things I want to share with you:

Fall Camp

This event is coming up on October 11th and 12th. It's a 24 hour camp (noon to noon) specifically intended to further connect new people into our community. The theme we are pushing is developing a deeper relationship with God and people. We want to focus on both together because they go hand in hand. I don't think Jesus coincidentally said the two greatest commands were to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind AND love your neighbor as yourself. We plan on having student testimonies of how they have deepened their relationships with God or people to give an example to younger students of what that practically looks like. Also we will be talking about the different names in which God has been referred to because what we call someone absolutely plays into our relationship with them. Then as a follow up activity we will have them write a Psalm or letter to God using some of these names that are meaningful to them. I'm really excited to see how it goes!

Leadership Axioms

We use leadership axioms to teach practical ministry lessons to our student leaders in a way that gives them a lot of meaning packed into a smaller phrase. I've really grown to love this method and wanted to share with you some examples:

  • One-on-one is how it's done - We use this axiom to emphasize our value of doing one-on-one ministry. All of our leaders have had several examples of one-on-one mentorship before they get to leader team so they can pretty easily see the importance. We strongly believe that without one-on-one relationships the amount of depth possible is severely limited. The fact is simply that ministry is personal because our God is personal.
  • Teach the person, not the lesson - Again, ministry is personal. This goes primarily with our written Bible study, Focus on Jesus, but is applicable in any aspect of ministering to someone. The emphasis is that every time we study the Bible with someone it's going to look different. We must be needs oriented, which should always include seeking guidance from the Lord and time in thought because it's easy to focus on felt needs as opposed to real needs. We can't simply use a template and successfully bring people to the Lord. Instead we have to be led by the Spirit and lead that person to the Lord from wherever they are. They aren't on the same path toward Jesus as the last person you studied with. You've got to go find them before you can lead them to Jesus.
  • Move your feet and talk to each other - The big deal here is to communicate with other leaders and staff. We are a team so we have to be able to talk to each other about what's going on. A common example of how this plays out in our ministry is if a guy meets a girl who is interested in being a part of the community in some way, they know to introduce her to one of our female leaders. Also when a core is overwhelmed with members, the leaders know they can get help from the leaders of a smaller core to invest one-on-one in their members. Yet another example is if a leader at UNT had a friend going to UTD, they could talk to one of the UTD FOCUS leaders and introduce them to each other. It's all about working together, but that can't happen if we aren't communicating.
  • Think pastorally - As a staff we don't see ourselves as the only pastors of the community. Our student leader team IS our pastoral team. They are the ones who are primarily ministering to those in our body through one-on-one relationships - our role is to support the student leaders. It's because of this reality that we want to emphasize to the leaders how important it is that they think pastorally. When facilitating their core group or a one-on-one Bible study, they have to go beyond their own preferences and the preferences of others to ultimately move people onto God's agenda. Doing that will require a lot of prayer and forethought. There is no template. This experience as a student leader will give them powerful and foundational ministry experience that I think can make them effective disciples for the rest of their lives.

Art Worship Night

One of our students put on a creative worship event this last Saturday. The prompt was essentially to spend time in prayer asking the Lord to speak to you then in response to paint, draw, or write something. At a certain point everyone shared what they had worked on and what it meant to them. It was really neat to be a part of that experience and worship God in a new way. Check out some of the pieces involved:



Click to zoom in.

Your Prayers are a Tremendous Blessing

Again, thank you for all of your prayers over the past month. I wanted to make a few quick comments about those things.

About 150 students have signed up for cores over the past few weeks, which doesn't include anyone who was invited and didn't sign up. That's just a really cool thing to have such a large percentage of the ministry involved in our smaller communities.

I've witnessed the impact of newer students developing friendships with returning members - many of them have noticeably never had a real friend before. It's a sad reality that it's really easy to be someone's best friend these days. That's probably the number one reason people are drawn to our community. The students here are a great example of living out John 13:35, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

I believe your prayers in regard to the stresses on our staff and students have been very helpful! Please continue to pray for us to find our strength in the Lord always as it is just the nature of laboring for the Kingdom to be difficult. Each year I have new reasons to believe Jesus' words when He said, "In this world you will have trouble." Yet I'm increasingly more aware of the power and truth in the statement immediately after: "But take heart! I have overcome the world." The business of intimate relationships (ministry) is risky, but we are called to follow Jesus in His sacrificial love for others even when it costs us everything. The good news is He has gone before us and we know He's worth following!

Thank you for all of the ways you support this ministry and me personally. I have seen God's faithfulness displayed time and time again in how invested others are in campus missions and in how much care others have had for me. God is good!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Update

The past few weeks have been difficult, but the Lord has been working! Our students have been so on top of meeting new people, inviting them into their circles of friendship, and letting them see the love we have for one another. I've been encouraged by how welcomed our new members and visitors seem to feel in our ministry already.

Corefa Prep

This was such an encouraging time to hear how excited the students were to go out and meet others on the UNT and TWU campuses. Most of the weekend was spent in group discussion/encouragement prepping for the past few weeks of outreach. Each year I'm just more and more impressed with the hearts of these young disciples. It's inspiring!

Welcome Weeks

These are probably the longest few weeks of our year. There's no other time that I use all my spare time for napping to recuperate! Again I'm very proud of our student leaders (and even the other members in our community) who sacrificed their time for the Kingdom. These weeks are critical for reaching as many as possible. What we tell our leaders is they can do anything for two weeks if they put their minds to it. They took that seriously. Here are some pictures from after one of our outdoor athletic events (capture the flag). The event started around 10pm and this is around midnight on a weekday! There were probably still 100 or so people just talking to each other. How cool is that?





Corefa Retreat

While "Corefa Prep" is geared toward preparing the student leaders for the couple of Welcome Weeks, Corefa Retreat is designed to prepare them for starting their Core groups and 1 on 1 Bible studies. We also use this retreat as a time to have some heart-level activities to minister to them rather than simply dump a lot of information on them.
These are most of the student leaders from all of our campuses!
Devotional stations at the retreat.


Friday Night Fellowship

Our large group meetings on Friday nights have been great. I usually get nervous as summer ends because I haven't talked in front of so many people in a while, but my transition has been much smoother this year. Our theme this year is Words of Life, which is intended to push two different values: 1) a disciplined reading of God's word at the individual level and 2) stronger devotion to pursuing a real relationship with God. The first week was an introduction to the theme, highlighting the goals and giving them very specific challenges for the week to get more involved in scripture and relating with God depending on where they were at personally in those areas. This past Friday I talked about the authority of scripture. I made the assertion that perhaps the Bible more accurately points to God's authority by revealing His truth rather than having authority itself. We see God's authority by what we learn about Him in the Bible. Then through obedience to the Lord and a relationship with Him we experience His authority first hand!
FNF Kickoff
This Past FNF
Please feel free to come check out our Friday night service anytime! We meet weekly at 7:30pm in the Eagle Student Services Center (ESSC) room 255 on the UNT campus. You can call, text, email me for directions as well.

Additionally, you are welcome to attend the church that supports us, the Denton North Church. Their meetings are on Sundays at 10:45am in the MLK Jr. Rec. Center in Denton.


Please be in prayer especially for the following things:
- cores starting
- strong relationships developed all across our ministry
- stress on students and staff

Thank you, thank you thank you for your commitment to campus ministry. I'm so thankful to be surrounded by many Godly people who believe in the work being done on the college campuses. May the Lord continue to bless you richly.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Thursday, August 7, 2014

August Update, Part 2

Our staff retreat earlier this week was very good. It's an important time for us to deepen our unity in Christ and think through our goals for the coming year. We shared about our lives with each other to deepen our staff relationships. We spent time in prayer and song to deepen our corporate relationship with the Lord. We talked about the values we want to emphasize in our ministry, how we want to articulate them, and the practical ways of implementation. I'm excited about getting this year started!

2014 - 2015 FOCUS Interns

Our Entire FOCUS Staff!


I'd like to give you a snapshot of the next few weeks so you can have a sense of what our ministry will be up to and how you can better pray over it. Before I get into that I'll define a few terms so you can actually understand what I'm talking about!

Core - Our smaller, same-gender communities which involve studying scripture, worshiping the Lord in various ways, and serving others together. It's also a place to challenge and instill courage in one another to boldly do our part in advancing the Kingdom. We consider these groups to be the "core" of our ministry because it's typically where the most growth occurs.
Corefa - Core facilitator. These are the students who have committed to our student leader team for the year. They co-facilitate their core group with a partner and spiritually mentor the members in the group. The staff devotes time each week to these students to support them in their ministry. We view and equip them to be pastors of the community.
FOJ - Focus on Jesus. This is our primary Bible study that each new member is invited to do with their corefa or other experienced member of their core group. It's not a requirement, but we have designed it specifically for our ministry model. With so many meanings attached to the word "Christian" and "disciple" it is helpful to go through FOJ to get a sense of where someone is spiritually and for non-Christians it gives a great foundational starting point to helping them see what Jesus is all about.
FNF - Friday Night Fellowship. This is our large group meeting at UNT, which the TWU ministry attends also.
UNT - University of North Texas. FOCUS has been at UNT for just over 4 years now.
TWU - Texas Woman's University. FOCUS was established at TWU last year and will still be strongly connected to the UNT ministry as it matures.


Here's that snapshot I was talking about...

Corefa Prep

For roughly 11 hours we will have all of the UNT and TWU corefas (44, possibly 46 total) and staff together to prepare for the beginning of the year, specifically for welcome week. This is also our first opportunity to get this team together and help them feel comfortable working with each other. We will have a few different discussions and times of sharing to develop vulnerability and openness. The three focal points will be:
1) Discussing our theme (Words of Life) so the student leaders have a sufficient understanding of the direction we will be going with our teaching.
2) Talking over the welcome week schedule and letting more experienced students share advice about how to best reach out during this time.
3) Sharing our visions of how we see God using us individually and collectively this year to do His work in the lives of others.

Welcome Week

Starting the next morning after our corefa prep is a week of activities planned by the school. UNT requires all new students to participate in several of these events so it's an easy way for our students to meet incoming freshmen and transfer students. We do however plan a couple of extra events like capture the flag and board game nights. TWU has a different schedule with less events, but our goals are similar and methods easily adaptable.

First FNF

This is usually our biggest large group meeting of the year since many new students show up to check out what we are all about. With so many new faces there it is imperative that our regular members take advantage of the opportunity to welcome and befriend them. We don't have a structured system for this - we merely train the corefas to keep a keen eye out for visitors each week so they can initiate conversation. The most important part is the follow through: inviting the new person to sit with them and/or exchanging contact information to continue developing the new friendship. The most common reason people consistently come to a Christian gathering is because of the human relationships they find there. We don't want that to ever be lacking in our community.

Corefa Retreat

This is similar in a sense to our corefa prep because it's designed to prepare the corefas even more for the year of ministry ahead of them. It's different because we have all of the corefas from our larger ministry (well over 100 total) and we prepare them more for facilitating core, leading FOJ studies, mentoring, etc. Also while the corefa prep is geared toward predominantly practical things, the corefa retreat is focused more at the heart level - us challenging and pouring a lot into the corefas to help develop a passion and excitement.



My biggest request at this time is that you would take some time over the next week to pray over the beginning of the school year and specifically the events listed above. Our organization can't do anything without God's power and guidance. Thank you so much for your support! It goes a lot further than you probably realize. I appreciate everything you do!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Friday, August 1, 2014

August Update, Part 1

Today is the first of our organizational calendar which means we are entering the busiest part of the year. August is when everything starts up for the school year. Our new interns started orientation today. Our new staff team will be going on retreat Sun-Tues to finalize plans for the year, prepare ourselves (spiritually, mentally, and emotionally), and spend time together as brothers and sisters. In a couple of weeks the UNT/TWU small group leaders will be meeting to prepare for the craziness of engaging new students during welcome week (Aug 17-24) - there's no other opportunity all year like this where our students can meet and befriend so many people at once. Our first FOCUS big group meeting is on August 22nd and school starts on the 25th. Also as a side note the Denton church we planted roughly a year ago will begin weekly meetings this month!

Please be in prayer over our student leader team, staff, the Denton church, and the beginning of our year. I'll write a longer post after our staff retreat. Thank you so much!

Matt

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July Update

Wow, July came faster than expected. I wish there was more time over the summer! Things seem more chaotic, I guess, because there is less structure in my schedule and it's a time of transition. The primary transition is selecting student leaders for next school year. Our goal is to finalize the leader team by the end of this week. Spending time talking to and meeting with many of these students over the past few weeks has been very encouraging as we look toward the approaching school year. Please be praying for the Spirit to guide Sarah and me in that process (as well as planning important dates, events, meetings, sermons, etc. for the year).


Our summer activities have been going really well. They include:

Thursday Night Fellowship

These are our combined large group meetings with all 6 campuses. The students get a sense of the larger FOCUS community and can develop cross-campus relationships with people who they know later know at future events during the school year. It's actually my favorite part of the summer because I also get to develop relationships with students on the other campuses - some of whom will transfer to UNT eventually so forming those connections early on can make their transition much smoother.

Summer School of Ministry: Genesis

This is our more academic Biblical class to challenge our students intellectually in their knowledge and understanding of scripture since they aren't naturally exposed to this at a secular university. We have been reading through the Genesis NIV Application Commentary which attempts to explain the intended cultural meaning and the contemporary significance. To grossly oversimplify, one main point of the author is that we have to remember that the characters chosen in the scripture are typically over emphasized in our culture. We can't make them into the main characters, because God is the main character of scripture. The stories recorded in the Bible are written to tell who God is so that the reader can know Him. We have had some very cool discussions in this class!

Experiencing God

This is a class centered around a popular workbook called Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude King. I'm typically not too keen on the devotional book type approach because they seem to be very transactional instead of relational. This book however has a strong emphasis on our relating to God in a very real way by learning to listen to His voice. Going through this study is somewhat the "yin" to the "yang" of our Genesis class.


Next month (in August) our Denton church plant will start meeting weekly which is incredibly exciting. Please be praying for us in this endeavor as we build and grow a spiritual community in Denton that can be a support to the college ministry as well as a light to the city, and eventually a church who plants other churches.


Thank you so much for your continual support of the work God is doing here. Many people benefit and will benefit from the gifts of a few. God is good!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Thursday, June 19, 2014

SICM Testimonials!

I wanted to share a few of the SICM experiences with you in hopes that it blesses and encourages you. God is going to use these students to make a noticeable impact on the world!


Autumn

SICM was such an incredible experience all around. The relationships I built there are so deep and it is encouraging to see how much God is doing in each of our lives. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that the Kingdom movement is so much bigger than I can possibly comprehend. God has graciously invited us into this grand plan and it is so easy to get caught up in the "it's between me and God" mindset. God wants a relationship with us all, but he also calls us to spread His glory everywhere we go. SICM was a great reminder that our lives are about so much more than ourselves and that we are part of the biggest movement to ever sweep across this earth. God's plans are pretty wonderful.


Troy

Going to SICM taught me that asking the right questions can be very beneficial to making disciples. Asking good questions in a small group setting or in contact evangelism can help you to guide others to a significant truth. This is important to the disciple-making process because you are not actually telling people what to believe, instead you are challenging them to think, and leading them to find spiritual truths.




Takisia

SICM has changed my life! It was truly a gift from above to be able to attend SICM and it was fantastic to get to worship and learn about the Lord with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ! I finally learned how to accept the Lord's  unconditional love and how to pour out that same type of love into small group members. I truly realized we are called to a much higher purpose than blindly walking through life immersed in Earthly things. Through SICM God equipped me to be a light everywhere I go and by His grace we can all be Christ's disciples by living to lead others to Him. I thank God I was able to go to SICM!


Nathan

From my experience at SICM, I learned of the power of our actions as Christians through God's will. Through the tools we have been given, we can minister and develop closely knit bonds with those who have not yet become a part of this glorious Kingdom. These opportunities are present in class, small groups, or really any given period. We do not have to set a time for discipleship. In my mind, that unfolds a future full of heartfelt joy and life changing scenarios, and I wouldn't want a future any other way than that.



Kristen

Historically, I've been a person who values solitude over fellowship. The Lord had graciously poured so much love into me, and my response was to keep that love locked inside. I couldn't build God's kingdom the way that I've been called to because I didn't know how to love people well. When the week of SICM had come to an end, I found myself wishing that I was always around people who love Jesus. God used that week to teach me the importance of community, of loving the people that He created, of pouring myself out for His children. He showed me what Acts 2:42-47 looks like. He doesn't love simply so that we can feel loved, although that's a part of it. He loves us so that we can love others.


Josh

One of the most influential lessons I took from SICM is the importance of not focusing too much on the church. While the church is important, it seems like congregations tend to focus too much on their members and how to keep up attendance, and lose sight of the fact that people outside of the church are just as important if not more. It's also my understanding that his can pertain to more than just evangelizing, it can include community service programs that could benefit our society as a whole, and often this goes hand-in-hand with spreading the word about God. This idea reminds me that Christians are expected to lead Christ-like lives, showing Gods love through actions as well as faith, which ideally would be evenly balanced.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

June Update

The past month has been primarily focused around our SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) trip - we took 70 students this year (13 from UNT and 4 from TWU)! SICM is a week-long leadership training course we take the following year's potential leaders to in Bellingham, WA. Each day is packed full of lectures, discussions, and hands-on-training for facilitating small groups, 1-on-1 ministry, developing custom Bible studies, evangelism, relating with God, and more. It was exciting to hear the students talk about what they were learning each day and see the passion that is growing in them for reaching their campuses for the Lord. I'm greatly looking forward to working with the UNT and TWU students next year.

One of the best things about this trip is simply the amount of time we all get to spend together. I personally enjoy my time getting to know these students since most of them have only been in the ministry for about a year. More importantly I get the perfect opportunity to learn more about the guys and girls who will soon be on the leader team. At the same time they get to know each other better. A lot of times these newer students have primarily developed friendships within their cores and while they may know of the other SICM attendees, it is usually only at an acquaintance level. This aspect is important too because it lets us start the year stronger with the leader team actually feeling more like a team. I've included a few pictures so you can see some of the students who came with us:

The guys I stayed with and our host family - some of the most amazing people I know!

This is what a typical lunch break looks like during SICM.

SICM graduation ceremony!

College students are weird!


Also this month marks the end of our 2013-2014 internship. Tonight we will be having a dinner to celebrate and encourage them as they transition to their new roles in the ministry or a new career. Please pray for them during this period of time! I have greatly enjoyed the time I had with the UNT interns. They will always be dear friends of mine as we have spent so much time together working hard for the Kingdom. It's often the people who you go through the hardest times with that mean the most to you in life.

UNT FOCUS Staff: Danielle Rodriguez, Grant Trotter, Matt Wills, me, Sarah King

Thank you again for everything you have invested into this ministry. Without your support we wouldn't be able to take students to SICM nor would we be able to train and raise up Christ-centered leaders on college campuses. God uses you to make a difference in this world. May He, who gives so generously, bless you and your family!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Update

Today is the last day of classes for UNT students, tomorrow is a "reading" day, and their finals start Saturday. These times are stressful for everyone, but I've been so impressed with our student leaders who have not slacked in their time ministering to their peers. It greatly encourages me. Truly, when I speak of the work these guys and girls have done this year it causes me to tear up (even now I am fighting back watery eyes in a public place!). I'm just so proud of them.

Some of Why I'm Proud

One of our student leaders was captain of the UNT Ultimate Frisbee team. She was good at leading that team and really enjoyed it. Facilitating a small group on top of that and school was overwhelming though. I remember talking to her once about how she was struggling with figuring out how to prioritize each of those things. Then I was dumbfounded when I discovered that she had quit the Ultimate Frisbee team altogether (except for when the team didn't have enough players to qualify for a game, she would still sacrifice her time to help them). Maybe this wasn't the hardest decision for her to make, but can you imagine doing that at 19 or 20 years old?

One of our TWU leaders has invested countless hours in reading books of his own accord (like M. Scott Peck's The Different Drum which is about Christian community) in order to enhance his effectiveness in college ministry. I've even read books per his recommendation and been challenged by his desire to learn.

A few of the student leaders who invest the most into their peers work around 30+ hours a week on top of being students and investing in the ministry. Regardless, these are guys and girls I can ask to do something and know it will get done. I asked one in particular to lead a few worship songs (though he doesn't do this normally) about 9 hours in advance for our end-of-the-year leader party. He not only came well prepared, but had taken a good deal of time to think through some challenging thoughts for us to consider while worshiping God. He framed our time of worshipful singing in such a way that helped the entire group (staff included) focus on praising our Lord with heart, mind, and spirit.

Yet another student leader is possibly the most busy with his music degree and marching band, but instead of being discouraged is all the more encouraged. His busy schedule has required him to develop disciplined time management with hours a day of practicing instruments, a few trips out of state to try out for a couple of drum corps, and more that I don't remember! The first semester of this year he was telling me that he didn't think he could continue being a leader in the ministry next year and I didn't want to press him because I was aware of how time intensive his studies are. After the Christmas break he had changed his mind. To him the opportunity to minister to others (inside of our mentoring support structure for student leaders) for the few years he is in school is rare and short-lived. This is something that I have challenged others to think through in the past, but this particular student realized it on his own and astonished me! He also has invested time into planning for reaching out to others in the Troopers Drum Corps that he has been accepted into over the summer.

The hearts that God has developed in these young disciples are awesome, as is everything that comes from Him. I share these examples with you so that you might be encouraged by the fruits of your investment. I know God moves in the lives of students at UNT and TWU because I see it personally. I'm convinced that they will take that with them into the rest of their lives to impact people for generations - some significantly more than others, possibly even myself. That's what gives me purpose in my role and instills courage in me to keep running the race.

One More Thing I Want to Share About Our Leaders

We celebrated the end of the year with a leader party that I had mentioned above. Our agenda for the night consisted of singing a few songs of praise to God, then lifting up prayers of praise and encouragements to the group. This is a true statement: it was the most encouraging part of the year for me personally. To understand the situation you need to realize that at the end of the year many student leaders are tired and stressed. It is not unusual for several of them to decide against leading again the following year. At the same time there are students who see the purpose in the hard work or who have been doing this for a couple of years already and know they have this propensity to want to quit. The latter group seized the moment and encouraged (instilled courage in) the others to press on and be careful not to give up on this opportunity. It really is an opportunity. It's an opportunity for them to take responsibility for advancing the Kingdom of God, which is huge. It's also an opportunity for them to mature as a person. So many of the skills I had learned that enabled me to excel at my previous job and eventually be promoted to supervise 10 other people (many of which had worked there 3-5 times longer than me and some had also applied for the same position) were developed from leading a small group in FOCUS as a college student. This is because leading a small group was much more than leading a Bible study. Bible study is one important element, but our small groups are about living in and leading community. Our student leaders are experiencing life with their peers. They are there through the thick and thin and all the while trying to lead them toward a life devoted to following Christ. A very complex skill emerges from these experiences: human relations. It's something that we obviously struggle with in the modern world considering we have Human Relations departments in most mid to large-scale businesses. The ability to have deep, healthy relationships with those around us is important and not often taught in our academically focused culture. Most of our schooling on how to build relationships seems to come from our families and television. This is another reason why I believe so much in what we do here on the college campuses. I'm convinced a difference is being made.

Upcoming Events

We will be taking our group of potential leaders to SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) from May 15th - 24th. That is the ministry we have learned a lot of our ministry methods from and we take a group of students to Bellingham, WA each year for an intense, week-long ministry training class/conference. I'll have more to say about this in my next update!

All of our campuses will be meeting together over the summer in a centralized location, which is very exciting. In years past, the Denton campuses (UNT and TWU) have met independently because we are about 45 minutes away from the others. It's exciting that we were able to work out a new meeting place so that we can enjoy our unity. Most of our students have cross-campus relationships so I know they will enjoy getting to see each other regularly as well.

Since we will not have our normal small groups (called core groups, because we consider them the core of our ministry) over the summer, we normally have something called School of Ministry (SOM). SOM is also an attempt to provide our students with a graduate level, class-like small group about Biblical topics because they lack this sort of thing in the secular universities they attend. This year our SOM group will be over roughly the first half of Genesis using the NIV Application Commentary for Genesis.

Another type of small group we are offering will be going through the Experiencing God workbook study by Blackaby. This will be something that is supplemental to the sermons at our summer FOCUS big group meetings.

Thank You!

Thank you again for your support. I know saying this each month can seem less meaningful, but a thank you never goes without saying. I am compelled to express my appreciation at every opportunity. I thank you and hope that you are as encouraged as I am by the good things God is doing here!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April Update

Please forgive me for the late update. I've been trying to catch up on work and rest/sleep for the past week! I have actually been looking forward to writing this post and I'm excited for you to read it. Specifically, I have included some evangelistic insights at the bottom. These are some ideas that have been collecting in my mind for a while and I'm glad to finally get them out in writing.

A main focus of mine for the past month was getting ready for SSI (Spring Student Initiative) week. The ministry I often refer to in Washington state sends groups of students during their Spring break to various areas in the US for service trips. One group of 20 students came to Texas for a week of evangelism on our six campuses. I am excited to tell you a little about how this week went and hopefully you will be able to experience for yourself some of God's glory in all of it.

What SSI Means to Our Ministry

It would be easy to take for granted that these students came on this trip as a service to the FOCUS ministry. It would be easy for our ministry to think we are doing them a service by hosting them here and setting up opportunities for them to practice evangelism. It's important to understand, though, that our Washingtonian brothers and sisters sacrificed their week of break, but even more than that they came to the campuses that we labor on to help further the Kingdom of God. They exhibited a Kingdom mindset which amazes me - and reminds me so much of the Lord we serve. I wish that you could have seen the concern that our friends had for colleges they would likely never visit again. I was able to pray with some of the Washington students about UNT and TWU - how encouraging it was for me to hear them pour their hearts out for something so dear to my own heart! Along with students from Washington I was able to have spiritual conversations with UNT and TWU students. In those conversations I saw the care our visiting brothers and sisters had for university students halfway across the country. So I want to just express how appreciative I am of the unity they have modeled for our students as well as our staff. What a blessing it is to be a part of God's Kingdom!

UNT and TWU Evangelism Plans

At TWU we did something called, "I'm Sorry" which is an attempt at restoring relationships between Christians and those who have been hurt by Christians. Anyone with a shred of humility will admit they make mistakes and Christians aren't exempt from that. Our goal with this method of outreach is to engage in conversation with people who have been hurt, be sympathetic of their pain, and try to develop real relationships through conversation. The goal is not to convert people in that conversation, but we also weren't going to shy away from sharing the gospel of Jesus. You can see more about this on Sarah's blog or get even more of a sense of what we did by viewing my post from last year's "I'm Sorry" event at UNT.



The title of the left board reads, "Christians: what are you personally sorry for?"
Response on the bottom middle of the right board reads, "Being judged by my brothers and sisters in Christ."

At UNT we had a different approach. Our main goal was to strike an interest with the atheist crowd. Our event was called "Questioning God" which was simply a forum for passersby to ask any question they had about God (and they could write their questions on the marker boards we set up). We knew going into it that we would be faced with some tough questions and likely would be incapable of answering most, if not all, of them. Providing answers wasn't our goal though. Our goals are to have conversations and build relationships.





Some Insights on Evangelistic Outreach

1) Meet people where they are rather than expecting them to go where you want them.

The best conversations I've had started with me asking lots of questions to understand the person I'm talking to. It comes out of the wisdom in the quote: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Who would want to listen to what I have to say until they respect me? Our role may not be to take someone from A-Z, but maybe just from A-B. Some conversations I had last week with non-Christians ended with me being one example of a Christian who didn't attack them for what they believe and was willing to have a reasonable conversation about belief in God. From my experience, a lot of the reasons for hostility toward Christianity come from misunderstandings of who Jesus really is. A lot of that can be addressed when we are willing to listen to what shaped their current view of Jesus. Like I said earlier, the goal is conversation and relationships.

2) When you display humility, others are more likely to reciprocate.

Three people I talked to personally were very neat examples of this. Truly, the Lord touched me in each of these:
  • One girl at UNT responded to my question, "Do you have any questions about God?" with, "It's all lies!" and, "It's a man-made book!" without stopping to find out what we were actually doing. I can't blame her considering she has probably been "preached at" in the past by another organization. Really I didn't think much of it, except that it was humorous to me personally that she thought questions could be lies. The neat thing was she came back an hour or two later and apologized to me! After that we had a really cool conversation about each of our differing beliefs on the existence of God. I made sure to thank her for being vulnerable enough to come back and apologize.
  • A girl at TWU wrote a two page note (attached with a magnet in the image from TWU above), I guess looking to avoid a debate, and left it on the table we were set up at. She had some similar thoughts on how Christianity is illogical to her, but later she ended up having a long conversation with Sarah. I came in at the tail end of their conversation, but Sarah listened to what this girl had to say and befriended her. They have stayed in contact and will likely spend time together again - it even seems like she might be interested in studying the Bible!
  • Yet another girl from TWU was explaining to one of the Washington students and me how she believed in God, but hadn't been a part of a Christian community in a while. Her reason was that she was busy with other things. Through a conversation about what could motivate us to passionately live our lives following Jesus (as the disciples did - even to their deaths) she ended up sharing that she was afraid she was too far gone to return to God. We told her that was absolutely not true! She had been judged by others within the church in the past so much that she feared being close to other Christians (her comment is on the bottom middle of the right marker board in the image from TWU). That breaks my heart. To summarize, we told her she was welcome to be a part of our community and she struggled not to cry in front of us. It was amazing that God used us to bring back this lost sheep of his. I even got to say hi to her this past Friday at our big group meeting!
These were just the three conversations that popped into my mind first, not to mention the conversations I wasn't included in. I wanted to share them to encourage you. There is such humility in each one of these people! God can teach and grow us even as we reach out to others.

3)  Map making and seeking the truth together.

A concept that I learned from a favorite author of mine (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled) is thinking of our worldviews as maps. Each of us has a different worldview just as if we all were mapmakers, our maps would have differences. Some would be more or less complete than others. Some would have parts that were over exaggerated while others might have parts that are understated or even neglected altogether. I think this is a great metaphor for how humans have such differing views of the world. We have to admit there is only one true worldview so it is likely that each of us is wrong at some point(s). In light of this, if we are to be good mapmakers, we should constantly be refining our maps. We need to be open to correction when someone else says, "Hey, there is not a river there!" or, "You drew that mountain in the wrong place." When a conflict in maps arises, the appropriate response should be to travel to this place in question together. Let's see what the true state of things is, not to see who is right, but to see what is right. Perhaps we were looking at the same area from two different perspectives. In that case, we would both need to take a look from the other person's perspective to see if we might have missed something important.

Consider this approach to talking about your belief in God with an atheist, or anyone really. Of course, the metaphor makes this process sound simple and even fun maybe. It likely won't be that simple considering human beings are quite complex, but it does provide some insight into how one might attempt to win a nonbeliever over to Christ. It also provides insight into how a Christian can find deeper spiritual truths when they team up with another person instead of against them. Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another, right?

4) Share your relationship with God.

Instead of trying to convince someone that God exists through whatever theological truths or logical arguments, I think it's much more valuable to tell them about my personal convictions and why I have a trust relationship with the Lord. Have you ever had "the facts" given to you, but yet you still felt differently about whatever the subject was? Human beings aren't purely rational creatures! Plus so much of the evidence of Christianity is experiential. Even the reasons people don't believe in God are experiential: they grew up with Christian parents who abused them in some way or their experiences in the world have led them to believe a god could not exist. When believers and nonbelievers try to debate the subject with empirical evidence, they speak on different wavelengths, often voiding the entire conversation.

Let's think about it another way though. Imagine I have a friend named Kyle who I really respect, but you despise. Let's assume he is the same person to both of us (and not just simply mean to you but nice to me). If this is true, we both have different perceptions of him based on experiential evidence. Why? Maybe Kyle made a bad first impression with you somehow. Maybe you misinterpreted something he said because you didn't know his personality yet. Maybe you just assumed something about him because he reminded you of your dad who abused you growing up. Now for whatever reason I have a different perception of Kyle. He has become one of my close friends that I really appreciate. It breaks my heart to know that you see him differently! So I try to find out what exactly it is about Kyle that you are having difficulty with. Then I share with you my own experiences with Kyle and how his relationship with me has benefited my life. Maybe I can't convince you, but I'm going to try anyway. Let's assume that I have been a good friend to you and gained your respect. This will bring you to a conflict: you think Kyle is terrible, but I (someone you respect) is saying the opposite. The respect I've gained from you is the foothold - without it I have no chance! Maybe just me sharing my personal experience isn't enough. That's fine. I'll invite you to spend time with Kyle and me together. Then you can experience for yourself this Kyle that I've been trying to tell you about, hopefully with a more open mind than before. Again this is so much simpler in theory, but it gives us a way of wrapping our minds around what it looks like to bring restoration to other people's relationships with God.


Thank you for reading. These are merely my thoughts and I only share them in hopes of encouraging you. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts of your own in regard to this subject. I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Thank you also for your support and prayers. They are always appreciated and well received. May the Lord continue to bless His faithful servants!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Saturday, March 1, 2014

March Update

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I am thankful for and encouraged by you! My hope is that in reading the following things you will also be encouraged and excited to hear what's going on at UNT.

Student Institute of Campus Ministry (SICM)

For anyone who is unfamiliar, SICM is a campus ministry training conference in Bellingham, WA, that we send our potential leaders to each year during May. The students will be taught on a variety of subjects including how to lead small groups, disciple students one-on-one and study the Bible with them, develop deep spiritual friendships, do evangelistic outreach on campus, etc. One of the days they will even go out on the Western Washington University campus to engage others in spiritual conversation.

This year, from our six campuses, we have 68 students registered to attend the conference (24 from UNT and TWU)! These are all students who have shown leadership potential and have already been leading in the community to varying degrees. On top of that, several of our staff will be going. That is a lot of people to be transporting across the country so please be praying for our safety and logistics! Even more importantly, pray for the Lord to be preparing the students' hearts to learn and grow in their faith as well as their ability to minister to those around them. Pray that God will use each one of them to do amazing things on their respective campuses when they return home. Also pray that these students will all be able to raise the money to cover the trip cost. If you would like to donate money to help send a student to SICM, let me know.

Check out the testimonies from some of last year's UNT students who went to SICM.

Parent Night

I have to say this might be the event I get the most nervous about each year. There is something about having to stand up in front of all of the students' parents and talk about what our ministry is all about that just puts the pressure on! Needless to say, I pray A LOT leading up to that night and the Lord always blesses it. Coming out of parent night last weekend was very encouraging to me. The prominent segment of the night was when we had our "open mic" time, where any parent or student could share what they have seen as valuable in the FOCUS community. The purpose of this is for newer parents to hear testimonies from people who have experienced it and get a better sense of what we are all about - far better than any message I could ever convey to them. Getting to hear parents and students say so many things about how this ministry has impacted their children or even themselves is powerful. Not only do I feel encouraged to know that God is blessing people through our community, but so do the students and their parents. That's something I love about God's design in Christian community: everyone is edified by lifting each other up.

I also wanted to share a note that I received from one of the UNT parents who emailed me a couple days later. This note, to me, is just a powerful example of the value of campus ministry and the impact that it can have on a person's life. I hope that you are just as encouraged as I am.

Spring Student Initiative (SSI)

For the past few years we have had students from Western Washington University (with the ministry that hosts the SICM conference) come to Texas during their spring break and help us with a week long evangelism project on each of our campuses. This year we will have about 20 students again. Please be praying for each of them as they give up this break in order to reach people for God's kingdom. Also pray for our staff to be able to prepare adequately to provide them a great experience. The students will be here from March 23-29th and will be on campus M-F. I'll provide a report on how this goes next month!


One other thing to be praying about is our prospective interns for next school year. We have 11 applicants and will be making final decisions over the next week.

Thank you so much for being involved (even if you are merely reading this post!) in the ministry going on at UNT. I appreciate your support. The Lord works through you to make what I get to do possible.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Saturday, February 1, 2014

February Update

Beginning a new semester is always intense, but I think we've finally settled into a routine now. I'm really excited about this semester coming out of Winter Camp, going into a new sermon series, and thinking about next year's potential leaders.

WINTER CAMP
I really wish you could have been there. To remind you, our topic was "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom." The main focus of the weekend was an understanding of the Holy Spirit. I, along with many others, prayed fervently that God would be there with us and move in us. I believe that He did. Our times singing worship songs were more expressive than I've ever seen in our ministry. Several students walked up on stage sporadically between songs to share something the Lord had put on their hearts and minds. Many there were more open to God's spirit than in the past, I being one of them.

Beyond that, it was encouraging just to have the whole FOCUS community together again. I greatly enjoy intermingling the campuses and watching new friendships come out of Winter Camp. That's actually one of my favorite parts!

This is our group at camp:


SERMON SERIES
The sermon series that we just started at UNT is "Embracing Spiritual Adolescence: Developing an Adult Relationship with the Almighty." At first I thought it should be titled "Coming Out of Spiritual Adolescence." Then I realized adolescence isn't the opposite of maturity, but the process of growing into maturity. I want all of the students in our ministry engaged in that process!

In the next several weeks we will be going deeper into three important aspects of spiritual maturity:
1) Intimacy: seeking relationship
2) Self-control: surrendered obedience
3) Love: doing what's best

Last night, for example, I talked about idolatry with examples from Exodus 32 and 1 Kings 11. In these two places we see how seriously God takes idolatry. There are major consequences. For making the golden calf, most of the Israelites were killed and the remainder received a plague. God couldn't even be with them any longer on their journey as we see in Exodus 33:3. Solomon, who up until chapter 11 in 1 Kings seemed to be impervious to evil, falters. Despite all of the wisdom he had, he chose to marry women the Lord warned about and ended up serving their gods.

In Exodus 20:2-6 the Lord gave His commands in regard to idolatry. We see here that He is a jealous God. The meaning of the word here from what I understand is not that God coveted or envied His people. To covet/envy means to desire something that someone else has so much that you want to take it away from them. Jealousy is about an intolerance to losing something or someone you appreciate to someone else. It's about losing something you already have. Can you imagine the despair of our Lord when we walk away from Him? Or even when we just sneak off for a few moments?

My encouragement to the students was essentially to remove the spiritual infections from their individual lives and our community: to cast down their idols, to rebuke each other - only out of love - as Moses did to Aaron in Exodus 32. We need to take a step back and figure out what we are worshiping instead of the Lord, and then demystify those things by realizing they can't offer any security to us. Only in God can we find security. And the more we pursue Him, the less we will pursue false gods.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 when you get a chance. Paul encourages the Corinthians in light of all of this and more.

(I just realized my last post also included a mini sermon on idolatry. Perhaps God has placed this on my heart for you.)

POTENTIAL NEW LEADERS
As you may remember we invite our potential new leaders for the following year to a college ministry leadership conference in Bellingham, WA, each year in May. This week we just finalized our invitations to that conference which came out to 35 invites with an additional 6 maybes for UNT and TWU!
(UNT is the University of North Texas and TWU is the Texas Woman's University)

One last thing I need to mention: TWU FOCUS is now an official organization on campus! It's the beginning of something great that God is going to do on that campus. I say that because there are few Christian organizations there and very little social activity. One of our goals is to change the culture of the TWU campus to be more active, but even more so to be a place where God is known to change hearts and lives.

STAFF RETREAT
I told you that I would let you know how the staff retreat went and so I'm going to tag it on to the bottom here. One of our themes was how we each deal with conflict. I personally enjoyed this because it was a time of vulnerability for most of us that brought our team closer together. We also had some discussions about what our dysfunctions as a team are, the sources of influence for leaders, and various other things geared toward staff development or administration to prepare for the semester. This was a very brief summary, but I will tell you that these retreats are essential to growing our staff team together in the Lord, as a spiritual family, and in effectiveness for the Kingdom.

Please see the prayer requests on the left! Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your support. I appreciate all of the people who make it possible for me to be ministering to students at UNT and TWU. May God bless you always.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Saturday, January 4, 2014

January Update

The fall semester wrapped up quite nicely despite the ice storm causing us to reschedule/cancel a few events. Since church was canceled that Sunday during the bad weather, some of us walked over to Whataburger to meet together! The Christmas party was so fun. We got together to sing worship songs, do some Christmas devotionals, and enjoy each other's company. It was great to see everyone one more time before they left for the break! Also we sent a small group of students to New Orleans for a service trip, but you can read more about that on Sarah's blog since she actually went on that trip.


The body meeting at Whataburger.

I'm really excited to see what God does this semester with the time and effort our student leaders have invested in the students they have been ministering to. One thing that is often a turning point for newer students each year is Winter Camp. I think this is primarily due to the relational depth they experience in being immersed in Christian community for an extended period of time.


Winter Camp 2014

Winter Camp is quickly approaching (Jan. 17-20th). If you are unfamiliar with what I'm referring to, it's our biggest event of the year. This will be our second year at Sky Ranch in Van, TX.  All six of our campuses will be there. It's a very exciting time to experience our whole ministry at large and I would like to invite you out there for a day, evening, etc. Let me know if you are interested in visiting and I can give you details on the schedule. Winter Camp is also an opportunity for us to do some longer, in-depth teachings to the entire ministry. Our speaker for the weekend, Brady Bobbink, is the director of a campus ministry in Bellingham, WA, that we have had a relationship with for many years now (http://ccfministry.com/). Their ministry has actually taught us a lot of what we know about ministry on the college campus and we have been sending our potential leaders up there just about every year for a campus ministry leadership conference called SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry). Brady's series of talks are titled: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom." I'm excited to hear what he has to say and I'll likely try to relay some of that to you!

I would also like to point out a need in regard to Winter Camp. We, as a staff, always want every student to make it out to camp regardless of money issues so we offer scholarships to those who need them. Due to the size of our ministry this can add up to a large sum of money rather quickly. If you are interested in providing a scholarship for a student, please either let me know or fill out a Winter Camp scholarship form. Even feel free to do this after camp is over as many students sign up at the last minute and we collect most of the payments afterward anyway. The cost for camp is $135.


Recently on My Mind

Something I have been thinking about lately is the issue of idolatry. That's arguably the most common sin in the Old Testament. The main stipulation God puts on His promise to David about his descendants always being on the throne in Israel is that they cannot forsake Him by worshiping other gods. Then we see nearly every king of Israel and Judah forsaking the Lord through idol worship afterward. Growing up I always wondered why they continually messed up, generation after generation. Even when one of the more righteous kings would rise up they would eventually falter near the end of their reign. Of course I eventually realized that I'm following the same pattern with different "gods" and I am left with the same question: Why do I keep doing what is obviously counter to God's ways?

I recently found an insightful comment regarding one of the kings of Judah in an article: "His dependence on God was consistent when the odds were clearly against him. It was in depending on God for the day-to-day plans and actions that Jehoshaphat was weak." Looking at king David we see this daily dependence on God. The book of Kings continually compares later kings to David and they were not as righteous in the Lord's sight. He may not have been perfect, but David seemed to always be conscious of the true Lord. I believe to some degree that's what Paul is getting at when he says to pray without ceasing: practicing the constant presence of the Almighty. Do you practice the presence of God? Are you mindful of His desires in your day-to-day plans? Do you inspire others to think this way? Consider how God sent His prophets when people needed to be reminded of who is Lord. I would suggest the reason we as humans fall into idolatry so easily is our tendency to forget. We need our brothers and sisters to remind us of the truth regularly so we don't forsake our God; so that we can be true men and women of God.


Prayer Needs

Our winter staff retreat is this weekend, where we will spend time together in fellowship and planning. Please pray that the Lord strengthens the bonds of our team during that time in order to maintain the unity of our ministries. Also pray that He guides us in our planning and preparation for this coming semester.

Please pray for our six campuses as the semester starts (UTD, UNT, TWU, Collin, Richland, and Preston Ridge).  Pray that our students will engage with their classmates purposefully creating relationships with them.  Pray that our staff is spirit-led and focused on God's mission.  Pray that God gives me the strength necessary to lead the UNT ministry and please pray that we will see many transformed hearts this semester.


Thank you so much for all you do.  God uses you to help advance the gospel.  May God bless you in 2014 for your commitment to Him and His workers.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt