Monday, November 28, 2011

No One Left Behind

With Winter Camp fast approaching, I've been pondering our long-term policy that with anything we do, we don't let anyone not participate because they can't afford it.  We don't have a lot of expensive events.  Most never top $5.  But Winter Camp is about $135 for a four-day, three-night experience and SICM in May can run over $500 for 9 days in Washington State.  These are expensive trips, but as I look back over the years I realize that they are the two most impacting times of our calendar year.  There's something about getting away from our regular routines for a few days to study and pray, worship and play, and build deeper relationships.  Students that go into these times lonely come out with friends; students that go into these times wavering come out having made solid decisions.  Emotional camp experiences aren't our goal, but when added on top of months of one-on-one and small group Bible study, mentoring, and relationships, these times away can engage students' hearts in a way that is hard to do in one hour in the middle of a busy school week.


And so back to our policy--we don't want anyone to stay home because of money.  And the Lord always provides richly!  It reminds me of 2 Corinthians 8:13-14, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality."  I always tell students who allow someone else to pay for them to make a commitment to pay for someone, somewhere to go to camp in the future (not necessarily through FOCUS).  The result has been more than I expected, as is usually the case with our God!  Some students who received such a scholarship once now pay for someone to go every year.  A couple years ago, we paid in full for a sophomore who had recently committed her life to Christ to go to SICM--a few hundred dollars.  She was so impacted by that trip that the next year (her junior year), she got a part-time job on campus and wrote me a check for the full amount to pay for a freshman to make the same trip.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the girls approached me and said her family just didn't have any money to pay for camp because things were really tight right now.  I was blessed to get to tell her, "no problem!"  Literally within 10 minutes a grad student approached me and said he wanted to pay for an extra student to go.  Last week I had a community college student say he couldn't even afford the $5 for pizza at our Pizza Theology event.  About 30 minutes later, a sophomore told me he wanted to scholarship 4 or 5 people for Winter Camp!  An alumnus who we have helped attend events before just paid for a student to attend Winter Camp and told me to let him know when more events come up.  These young disciples are learning, as the Philippian church did, to share in "the matter of giving and receiving" (Phil 4:15).  


Christ has truly brought us a better way, a different way to live within our culture.  My prayer is that these students will take this willingness to invest in the spiritual life of their brothers and sisters out into their families and churches and workplaces in the decades to come.  This is exciting stuff!  


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd also like to say thank you for all the many ways that each of you has blessed my life and ministry.  Reaching universities for the Lord is a community effort, and I feel so blessed that He has put each one of you in my life and let me be some small part of yours.


Last year's Winter Camp crew.  We're expecting even more students this January!
If you'd like to help pay for a student to go to camp (in part or in full), feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Busy October!

This past month has been crazy but awesome!  I have so much to report so I'll jump right in.

October 1-2, we took a little over a hundred people down to Mt Lebanon Baptist Encampment for an overnight retreat. This is an awesome time for new students to plug in and build friendships in the ministry.  In fact, we significantly discount the retreat for students who are new to the ministry to encourage them to come.  We had 96 people sign up and ALL 96 showed up (plus a few extras), which may be the first time in campus ministry history that we had zero no-shows!  That's a testimony to all of our student leaders working hard to get people there and make it a great experience.  Our theme was "Everyone Has a Story" and my favorite part was when 4 of our students shared their stories with the whole group of how God has brought them to this point.  Two came from Christian families and two grew up not knowing about God, but it was amazing to hear how Jesus used peers to bring each of them to know Him and begin living for His kingdom!  Then we split up in pairs and let everyone share their own stories.  It was a great experience.

UTD Fall Camp!
Another major event this month was a staff wedding!  Tyler, who has worked on staff with us first at Collin College and now at UTD, married my sister Brianna, one of our interns at Collin this year.  This has obviously been in the works for awhile, and we are all delighted.  From a family standpoint, one of my favorite people in the world has joined our clan.  From a ministry standpoint, they set the pace for our students of what done-right looks like.  They sought wisdom and asked advice; they kept their relationship pure; they spurred each other on spiritually and encouraged one another to keep serving and ministering to others; and they used this season of dating and engagement to serve the Lord and grow their friendships.  We couldn't ask for a better example!  They are moving into a little house about 5 houses down from the "Allen House," one of the main gathering places for our Collin College ministry.



If you haven't watched the baptism linked to on the main page, you can view it at anyfocus.org/updates/baptism.  Sam is a student from China who came to FOCUS and started studying the Bible last school year.  He's been a faithful student of the word and has been seriously counting the cost of this decision for months.  He and his girlfriend Rachel (who was featured in our student testimony last month) are starting up our pre-engagement counseling because they want to have a godly marriage.  Just as exciting to me is Stephen getting the chance to baptize Sam.  Stephen is a grad student who is leading a small group for the first time.  He grew up in a Catholic tradition that really stressed knowing the Bible and being serious about faith, but he had never made the jump to finding out what truly being a disciple was all about.  It's been amazing to watch him transform from someone who thought he knew enough into a disciple who knows he has a lifetime of learning ahead of him and finally into a disciple-maker!  What a Jesus-story!  Some of my favorite conversations over these past few months have been with Stephen as he shared his heart for Sam and sought wisdom on how to help Sam become a Christian.  And after the baptism the other night, Stephen told me he has started studying with a couple more Chinese students who want to know about God that Sam introduced him to!  Opportunities like this can really snowball in campus ministry.

Lots of students laid hands on Sam and prayed for his new life in Christ right after his baptism.
Over the past weekend we had our All-Church Retreat.  When Northeast Church started that tradition back in 1998, it was just a great time to take everyone from every age group out to the lake and build the kind of family relationships God had laid on our hearts to build--a community where you don't just know a few peers, but where everyone has relationships across the age spectrum.  This year, it served as a gathering point for people from 2 churches and 4 campus ministries.  It was a good time for me to reflect on how ambitious the Northeast family was all those years ago with our 2020 vision--50 churches by 2020, including vibrant campus missions on every campus in the metroplex.  We always said we wouldn't force it and that we didn't know what that would look like.  We wanted to let God drive that and see where He would take us, but we also wanted to dream big for Him.  Now here we are in 2011 and we have 2 awesome, growing churches and exciting, growing ministries on 4 campuses.  We have visions for churches in Greenville, Richardson, and Denton in the near future.  The statistics are clear that most people coming to Christ for the first time are coming through smaller, newer churches where it's easy to build real relationships.  And so we are doing what we can to stay small and new and relational.  We're praying about sending missionaries to UT Arlington, Texas Woman's University, North Central Texas College (the community college in Denton County), SMU, 6 more Dallas County Community Colleges, 3 more Collin College campuses, and Texas A&M Commerce--and that's not all the campuses in this city!  There are multiple FOCUS alumni and past interns who have a heart for campus ministry and are waiting for the right time and place to answer the call as a campus missionary.  I say all that to say this--God is doing His deal and we are getting to take part in it.  I hope each of you will continue to pray about your role in impacting these campuses and these cities that are strategically placed to impact our world.

One final random piece of encouraging information.  Every year at UTD, one of the service fraternities (Alpha Phi Omega) has a big event called Trick or Treat for Canned Goods to benefit the North Texas Food Bank.  They send out small teams of students from other student organizations to go house to house collecting canned goods on Halloween night.  They count up the totals for a little friendly competition.  We usually do pretty well, but here's the email I received this morning about the results:


Captains!

First off, I want to thank you for coming to out to support Network Community Ministries and Alpha Phi Omega. Without your participation, we couldn't have made this event such a success. Together, we collected over 2,800 lbs of food for them! This was well over our early expectations, so congratulations to you all! 

Now, I know you have all been eagerly awaiting the results, so, without further ado, here they are:

Top Teams
  • In 3rd Place, with 250 cans collected... Sons of Faded Glory!
  • In 2rd Place, with 256 cans collected... Kooky Core!
  • And, in 1st Place, with a WHOPPING 365 (yes, you read that right) cans.... JESUS SWAG!
<All 3 of those teams are FOCUS discipleship groups!>
          Top Organizations
  • In 3rd Place, collecting 206 cans with just one team... ODPhi (AKA Team Unimaginative)!
  • With 207 cans and barely securing 2nd Place... Pre-Pharmacy Association!
  • And... the grand prize winner... with 1426 cans and easily securing their spot as the Champions of TOT...
    FOCUS!
Isn't it cool to see how hard these students work when working for the Lord and not for men?  What a great witness to the campus community and beyond.  God is good!  Let me know if there is anything I can be praying for you this November.  For the kingdom,

Brandon

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's been a great month

I've spent a lot of time in my personal study this month looking at and thinking through the first few chapters of Genesis.  I'm amazed by God every time I take a fresh look at Him.  This time around, I was struck by the various "curses" in Genesis 3 & 4.  Human sin has serious consequences, breaking down our relationships with each other, with God, and with the world itself.  Yet, God barely finishes letting people know the new reality they've brought on themselves before He starts dispensing grace--moving to heal all those relationships.  Adam and Eve don't destroy each other, they build a family "with the help of the Lord."  Cain isn't in danger of being killed when he's cut off from his family--God Himself is his defender in the midst of exile.  And even as humans are cursed with death and cut off from the tree of life, God sets into motion His plan to conquer death and deliver us once and for all through Jesus.

Sometimes we struggle to reconcile the way God reveals Himself in the Old Testament with how He reveals Himself in the New Testament.  But God himself has declared, "I the Lord do not change" (Malachi 3:6).  James would write much later that the Lord "does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17).  And so we've been theming our sermons for Friday Night Fellowship (FNF) on campus with the theme "Unchanging."  Our current sermons series is about messages from God to His people.  His consistent message that He loves us, His invitation to repentance and forgiveness, His call to love Him and one another.  I hope you'll join me in praying that students will encounter the true and living God in the months to come--our unchanging, loving, gracious God.

The UTD ministry leaves for Fall Camp Saturday October 1.  This overnight camp is such an amazing chance for these young men and women to get to know each other at a deeper level and have more fun together than they can get in a couple hours a week.  One thing that we do every year that is especially impacting is our "Walk & Talks."  The student leaders pair up the students from their small groups to go off and share their stories with one another.  So many new friendships and discipling relationships have started out of these purposeful conversations.  The students rave about them every year.  Say a prayer that God will do something awesome at our camp this weekend!

Our corefas (small group leaders) are already dealing with some heavy stuff this year, so be in prayer for them as they have such a unique opportunity to minister.  In the past couple of weeks, I've heard from student leaders about issues with sexual immorality, homosexuality, loneliness, rage, betrayal and forgiveness issues, suicide of a friend, alcohol addiction, drug use, emotional fits attributed to demon possession, students cutting themselves, intense paranoia, sudden death in the family, dealing with serious injuries, obsessing over someone of the opposite sex, and a student going to jail.  And those are just the ones I know about and can think of off the top of my head!  But we know who loves these people and has the answers to every one of these problems.  So be in prayer for these student leaders that they would have supernatural wisdom and that the Spirit would gift them with all that they need.  Satan is at work, but "we are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Cor 2:11).  And pray for these students that they would turn to God and experience radical deliverance, comfort, community, and healing.

The five "corefas" that I mentor weekly.  Two are returners
and three have stepped up to lead a group for the first time!
Finally, I had the chance to make a quick weekend visit out to San Jose, California to spend two days with a couple of UTD FOCUS alumni who have gone to work at Google.  It was refreshing after a busy August/September and encouraging to see two guys who were in my small group as freshmen doing great and serving the Lord on the west coast!  Here's a picture of us during my tour of the google campus:


Thanks for your love, your support and your prayers.  You are truly making a difference on the campus and beyond.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Year #14 at UTD is Off to a Great Start!


Well, the student leaders have stepped up, the freshmen have moved in, classes have started, and we had a great first Friday Night Fellowship last week!  All of the relationship-building our students did during welcome week paid off—one of the students said he counted 158 people at our first Friday night!  And that’s just UTD—from what I hear Collin had over 90 and UNT over 110!  (Richland hasn’t started quite yet.)  Now the real work begins: pulling those people into our small groups and helping them forge meaningful, spiritual friendships.  Our staff, interns, and student leaders will be working to set up one on one time with each new student and help them to either come to know Jesus for themselves or move forward in their walk with Him. 



As for my personal ministry, August has been crazy!  This is always the busiest month of the calendar year as we try to get everything rolling for another school year.  Probably my favorite thing this month was leading a retreat for our staff early in the month.  Brad’s uncle graciously let us use his lake house for the weekend, and we had a great time growing closer and sharing vision for the school year.  We have 5 great new interns for the school year, and one of the interns from last year, Travis, has joined our permanent staff as campus minister to Richland College. 





Our internship is one of the most strategic things we do for the kingdom and leading it is a huge part of my job.  In the internship, young men and women who have completed their undergraduate education can apply to join our staff for a year.  After being assigned to one of our campuses, they each lead a small group, spend a significant amount of time mentoring students each week, participate actively with our senior staff in the planning and administration of the ministry’s outreach to the campus, and go through a rigorous, year-long study of the New Testament (among other things!).  We want to help each of them develop both their ministry skills and a heart for life-long ministry.  A few will join our campus missions team after their internship, but we hope all of them will go into their churches, their homes, and the marketplace having developed their gifts and sense of calling by serving as a missionary for a year of their life.  One of our outgoing interns from last year described deciding to do the internship as the best decision of his life (I’m assuming deciding to follow Jesus fell into a whole other category!).  

Please pray for me as I try to lead the ministry at UTD while at the same time supporting and leading the staff at the other three schools.  Trying to grapple with all the great challenges that come with growth has been trying this past year.  I’m working on training a staff while God is still training me.  I’m seeking wisdom for all the decisions that have to be made.  More importantly, I need His wisdom for all the opportunities I have to counsel and teach students.  Also, please pray that God will use the student leaders and interns to make and mature disciples to His glory this year. 

I love you guys and I’m so thankful to have you as partners in this mission.  I'll leave you with this encouraging story from a student:

"Last week I got a call from my mom telling me that a friend's mom had passed away. I didn't know her mom very well, but since I had grown up with this girl, I couldn't believe that her mom was gone. She was planning on leaving for college in Oklahoma the next day, but after her mom's heart attack, decided to go to Collin College instead so she could be closer to home. When I heard that, the first thing that came to mind was Focus was at Collin College. I talked to my roommate, who had just transferred from there, about getting my friend involved, but decided to wait until after the funeral to pursue anything. 

"I went to the funeral, and was a little disappointed not to see more of this girl's friends, or the other people that had been involved in the youth group, but since so many other people had just left for college also, it made more since. After it was over, I recognized a girl that I had just met a few days ago, who I knew was involved in CCCC Focus. I thought they must have known each other through something else, but as I got closer, I realized I recognized all of the other girls that were standing with her. Five girls from CCCC Focus had come to this funeral of a stranger! 

"My friend had gone to orientation, and happened to meet one of the girls, and they took it upon themselves to come to the funeral and show her that they loved her. I was so speechless that I probably made a fool of myself. I was amazed at God's love and provision for his children. The body of Christ is alive and moving in Focus, and it is amazing to see people reaching out to others they don't even know. My friend was so thankful to have people that cared about her surround her in this difficult time, and I am so honored to be a part of a community that loves and cares for each other, as well as strangers."

To God be the Glory!

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