Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some Major Comings and Goings

Thank you for another great year! Your support has made a huge difference this year, and will continue to bear fruit into the coming years. I have a few exciting things to share and a brief reflection on Christmas below.

Fall Pizza Theology

This Pizza Theology had nearly 100 more students than we've ever had before!
One of our most exciting events of November was the semesterly event we call Pizza Theology (a nod to CCF for the name and idea!). We had 400 people show up to hear 4 hours of teaching on "How to Think Like a Christian." Oh, and one hour of pizza and fellowship in the middle! I got consistent feedback that the 4 hours flew by and they couldn't believe it was over.

Garrett started us off teaching about paradigms and objectivity, among other things. He's such a great teacher, and he had us all laughing--often at ourselves! I taught about how we need to integrate scripture, tradition, the arts, the sciences, and our experiences in order to think through topics that the Bible doesn't directly address. I also talked about the need to proportion our agreement to things, understanding that there is always more information out there, much of which I don't have access to at any given moment. And then we had a panel of very smart, thoughtful Christians discuss the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. They had this discussion in front of us to demonstrate to the students how to have thoughtful conversations that drive learning and growth. We got incredible feedback on that portion.

The audio quality isn't the greatest, but if you're interested in listening, I highly recommend it. You can find the recording here.

Saying Goodbye to Travis

Garrett and I laid hands on Travis and prayed for him at Pizza Theology. Many of the students gave him a standing ovation for his years of service to them.
Travis Jones, who has been on our staff for nearly 5 years, served at 5 of our campuses, and helped us plant new ministries at Richland and UTA, is transitioning off at the end of this semester. We have loved working with him. He is so sweet and kind. He's up for anything, and is always serving however he can. He's done a lot of our graphic design work over the past few years (which we frequently get compliments on from other groups on campus).

Our staff has been in conversations about this for awhile, and while sad, we feel great about this transition.

Saying Hello to Casey!

I'm excited to share that Casey Worsham (my little bro!) is coming back to work with FOCUS half-time as our Administrative Director.  Our admin team is currently a patchwork of volunteers, part-time staff, and campus ministers who take on some specific role on the side, and we've been in great need of someone to come in and manage all that. Casey is a great fit because he has experience managing people in the marketplace and also, as one of our past campus ministers, really understands what we do and how we do it. Mandy and I are excited to be able to devote more of our time back with students as Casey takes this role off our shoulders.
Look how business-like he is!
Celebrating Christmas

God calls us into His family, and one of the things that really defines family in my mind is celebrating holidays together. And Christmas is such a great holiday to celebrate together as Christians! This year, we had a candlelight devotional to really think through the real meaning of Christmas (a special thanks to the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Richardson for hosting us!). We also had a fun party with the theme "High School Christmas." Our small groups came dressed as their favorite high school cliques, but the staff came as the lunch ladies and served a meal that would have made my high school alma mater proud, complete with segmented lunch trays! 14 of the small groups performed various high school themed Christmas songs/skits in front of the community. If you want a little taste, you can see one here.
UTD and Richland staff "lunch ladies." Note the hairnets.
This season of advent is our opportunity to celebrate Jesus' first coming and to wait longingly for His return. Light has dawned (Is. 9:2), but we eagerly anticipate the full light of midday.  Each of us gets to hold and share a part of that light, no matter how dark the world around us may seem. Henri Nouwen offers these questions to ask ourselves. I encourage you to reflect on them and be purposeful in reflecting the Light of the world: (Thanks to Shirley Bobbink for reminding me of them!)

“Did I offer peace today?
Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? 
Did I say words of healing? 
Did I let go of my anger and resentment? 
Did I forgive? 
Did I love?
These are the real questions.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

UTA and NCTC!

UT Arlington
I got to visit our new ministry at UTA last night, and you would have been so encouraged to be there with me! You would have seen 62 people (not counting me and my mom) worshipping God and living out Christian community on that campus. One of my favorite moments was seeing one guy who I'd never seen before go and introduce himself to a new girl and welcome her into the room. The DNA of our community is being passed on! I can't wait to see these students at Winter Camp.
Austin and April spoke, and the line that is still resonating in my mind is something that April said reflecting on the scene when Jesus was at Mary and Martha's house: "I have to become Mary to see Jesus again." Wow. It was so convicting to think about whether I was taking the time to just sit at Jesus' feet and look at Him. Honestly, the answer lately has been "no." So I'm taking the challenge to become Mary and see Jesus.

North Central Texas College (NCTC)
Yesterday our intern Aaron was telling me how much he loves working at NCTC, one of our newest plants. Here's something he shared with me:

Spending time at NCTC this semester has been really exciting. It's such a small campus that it's been easier to build some consistent relationships. People have been open to talking and sharing their ideas on God. We have a few guys and girls who are consistent in attending our core groups and have even taken part in helping us meet other students! Keep praying for NCTC and that we can grow in our vision for that campus.
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Having spiritual discussions in the NCTC common areas. The question of the day was, "Is God relational?"

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Hanging out with NCTC students.

My Washington Trip
I had the cool opportunity last weekend to speak at the Fall Camp for CCF, the ministry at Western Washington University that hosts the SICM conference every year. It was great getting to share God's beautiful invitation to repentance with a couple hundred students--the message that God's call to repentance means that no matter who we are or how much we've messed up, He isn't done with us yet! He has better things in store. 

I built my sermons around some points that Autumn Priestley shared at the end of her time in FOCUS: Get over yourself, Live in the light, and Go all in. You would have been so encouraged to watch these earnest students seeking God and living out His mission in a place where being a Christian isn't very popular.
Me with all the CCF students and staff last weekend!
Church and Campus Leadership Conference
I also had the privilege of leading our annual leadership conference for its 3rd year. The theme was around spiritual friendship. Our student leaders have been talking about things they learned ever since, and it has become one of our favorite days of the year. We asked the student leaders to invite students with leadership potential from their cores and we had well over 200 students show up!

Stay tuned this month for the roll out of our 2nd Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative. We have some cool stories to tell, and I'm excited to see how God blesses that. Thanks for your gifts and your prayers and your friendship. God is moving, and you are a part of what He is doing on these campuses.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Peer Team

UTD/Richland Fall Camp last weekend. What a great group!
One of my favorite things I get to do each year is mentor young men who have stepped up to serve/lead in the kingdom. This school year, I have 5 student leaders and 2 interns that I get time with regularly. They all have amazing hearts for the Lord and His people. Here they are in all their glory:

Jalen

I remember walking and talking with Jalen at Winter Camp a couple years ago when he was a freshman. He impressed me then and impresses me even more now. He is thoughtful and purposeful in his ministry. He's articulate in communicating important truths. He cares about others and is a lot of fun to be around! I love his zany sense of humor and the fact that he's a freak in almost every photo I could find of him. He's a second year corefa, and I'm excited to have him in my peer team this year! He also leads our sound team and is the VP of our club on campus. I have big plans for this one. :)







Quincy

I'm getting to know Quincy for the first time this semester. At first he seemed pretty quiet, but I've come to see how outgoing he really is. He has lots of friends and actively takes an interest in them. I was asking him about each of the guys coming to his core (there are a LOT) and he had things to share about each and every one of them. My favorite story from him so far is that one of the international students, who has zero background in Christianity, asked him what the word "baptist" meant. Quincy told him it was the name of a denomination. He thought for a moment and then asked, "What denomination are we?"





Rhett

Rhett is another second year leader. He is completely spastic, amazing at rapping and beatboxing and dancing (maybe he can teach me :), and incredibly grounded in his faith and knowledge of God and the scripture. He ministers from genuine friendship and interest in others, and he makes everything more fun. I'm loving the time I get with him. He sets a great example for others in the ministry.









Drew

Drew is Rhett's partner. He came in to the ministry a little later in the game last year, and quickly stood out. He's smart, likable, and funny. He takes his ministry really seriously and wants to bless the guys in his group. We've had some great conversations that show me how deeply he thinks about things, to the point where I've found myself thinking, "Is he really a sophomore?!" I can't wait to see how he grows in the coming months and years!








Dave

Dave has such a cool heart for God. He's open and vulnerable, and Peter (his partner) brags on Dave's skill at coming up with and asking good questions just about weekly. He is also a PA (like an RA in the dorms) and has a very demanding schedule, but he has made his ministry a priority. Dave spoke at our Fall Camp last week and now I'm afraid I'll be out of a preaching job here in a couple years!

Peter - My UT Dallas Intern

Peter is one of my two interns this year. He leads core with Dave, but he also coordinates and leads our entire worship team at UTD, which consists of a LOT of people. He is thoughtful and strategic in the way he leads our ministry into worship. Peter is brilliantly smart, musically talented, and initiates all sorts of fun games with people. He's really taking advantage of the internship to try to grow in areas he's never dealt with before. He's incredibly competent, so I love assigning him new things. Peter has a heart for campus ministry, and wants to continue making a difference in the years to come.






Austin - My UT Arlington Intern

I met Austin when he was a freshman in our UNT ministry, and we've stayed connected through his undergrad and his first year out of school working in the film industry. I was so excited to hear that he was hearing God's call to ministry and wanted to be a part of starting FOCUS at UTA! It's challenging to mentor someone when I only see him a couple times a week, but he has lots of other support. Austin is an amazing storyteller (my favorite so far having to do with fake pirates firing cannonballs at him) and just so much fun to be around. He is definitely an artist, and this internship is stretching his organizational skills for sure! He asks GREAT questions and really loves the guys God has put in his life at UTA.



I mentor a number of staff ministers as well, but these are the young leaders I have the joy of pouring into this year. I can't wait to see how the Lord uses them, not just this year but in the decades to come as they put these experiences into practice. Thank you for supporting me so I can raise up new leaders for the harvest.

Jesus told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." - Luke 10:2

As a bonus, here are two songs we've been singing a lot at UTD FOCUS this year. Feel free to check them out!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How We Used the #FOCUS140 Money

So almost a year ago we launched our 1st Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative (#FOCUS140) and raised $31,000 to keep FOCUS going and growing!

In the 10 months since then, so much has happened. Together with your help, we:
  • Established a major new ministry at UT Arlington and started groups at both NCTC and TWU Dallas as well. This means we are reaching students on 9 campuses now!
  • Finished establishing FOCUS as a separate church legally, which protects our assets and ensures they will be used for campus missions in the years to come. It also gives us increased flexibility to meet the specific needs of our mission field. 
  • Launched a new website to meet administrative needs and better communicate with incoming students.  
  • Welcomed 14 new full-time interns, our largest class to date.
  • Trained more than 150 student small group leaders to be missionaries to their campuses!
We are poised and ready for future opportunities because of those generous gifts. I've outlined below (in rounded numbers) how we spent that money. I tried to keep it general, but I'm happy to answer more specific questions as needed.

PurposeAmount
UTA launch expenses (leader retreat, moving expenses, sound equipment, etc)$5,200.00
Outreach and advertising to new students (for 9 campuses)$4,500.00
Printing FOJ books for the new year (enough for 675 one-on-one studies!)$900.00
Staff development (seminary coursework and staff prep days)$4,300.00
Paying for counseling for students (who need it but can't afford it)$1,400.00
New website (design, launch, and first year)$1,400.00
Internship expenses to help fund 14 interns (books, event costs, etc)$9,000.00
Legal expenses and fees as we finalized our new corporation$2,800.00
Prepping 150+ student leaders for the year (materials and meals)$1,500.00
Total$31,000.00

A special "Thank You!" to all of you who gave. Our 2nd Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative will launch in November!

Friday, September 4, 2015

So Many Great Things Happening!

August is always crazy (and we're all tired!) but God has been doing amazing things. First off, look at these snapshots from some of our first group meetings.
Our very first Thursday Night Meeting at UT Arlington! They can't reserve rooms yet, so they had their service outside on campus. Pretty much everyone there is someone our team met in the last couple weeks! 
The first meeting of the year at UNT. They couldn't use their normal room, so they packed into this one. Looks like every chair is filled!
Weird perspective, but Collin has had their biggest attendance ever. Garrett said we need a second projector because the people on the sides can't even see the words! 
This was during our first FNF (Friday Night FOCUS) at UT Dallas last week. I didn't count, but there are well over 200 students there, and it was one of our most diverse groups ever!
Our student leaders have done a fantastic job of meeting and befriending and inviting new students on all of our campuses. Thank you for praying for them! I wish there had been people like them to meet me when I first walked on campus at UTD all those years ago.

Another campus we are starting to reach out to is TWU Dallas. This campus is mainly for nursing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy students, and has very minimal Christian presence. One of our student leaders shared this about her co-leader and I wanted to share it with you:


I wish I could tell story after story, but I want to highlight just two more. First, our UTA team has been meeting tons of people from India who are looking for friends and also for God. One of them was sharing with one of our interns over there: "In India, the Hindus are still making up new gods. They see a rock standing up, spray paint it, and call it god. I don't believe that's real, which is why I'm interested in the God of Christianity. Will you read the Bible with me?" What!? I think God is at work there for sure! (You'll be glad to know our intern did consent to study the Bible with him. :)

And lastly, you'll want to read this poem shared at UTD last week. One of the girls who came to know Christ in our ministry awhile back shared this testimony. It goes with our "Living the Future" theme for the school year.
Thank you for your ongoing support and prayers. Keep praying! We're still meeting new students and already hearing heartbreaking stories, but also seeing amazing opportunities to bring God's kingdom to the lives of college students.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Countdown to Freshman Move-in

The beginning of August has been a blur. We've already had orientation for a new year of the internship (our sixth class!), gone away for a staff retreat, and put on a 2-day prep for the UTD/Richland/TWU Dallas student leaders. After just the few times I've been with our new UTD staff, I'm already so impressed by them. They are talented and eager and passionate for the Lord.


We have five great interns who will be leading small groups and mentoring student leaders this year. And as I've mentioned before, our leader team will also be driving outreach at Richland and TWU Dallas, two smaller campuses. This will allow their student leaders to be a part of a bigger leader team. They'll also be coming to our Friday Night large group meetings.

Our overall staff this year is huge! But that's fitting considering the 9 (maybe 10) campuses we will be reaching out on this year. It's crazy to me to think that we have nearly 30 campus pastors now. I remember so many years early on when I was excited to see 30 people at one of our events! But God is faithful. He put a mission and a vision on my heart--one that I know many of you share--to plant vibrant, outreaching, Jesus-loving communities on every campus in the DFW area, communities who would make and mature disciples to His glory.

Sending six amazing ministers to Arlington this fall to begin building at UTA is a huge step forward in that vision. Would you set a reminder to pray for that mission work daily over the next month as it begins? Pray for God to guard the hearts and minds of our amazing team of students and pastors who have moved away from all their friends to build the kingdom elsewhere. Pray that they would be bold to share and live the message of God's love, that the Spirit would work in the hearts of those they encounter, and that the devil's plans there would be frustrated. I've watched your intercession to our good God make a difference repeatedly in the past, and I know it will again!

The 2015-2016 FOCUS Pastoral Staff
(We're missing some part-time admin and pastoral support staff in this picture.)
Lastly, at UTD this year, we have a great student leadership team. We have 38 UTD student small group leaders, 2 at Richland and 2 at TWU Dallas. And we have a lot of other leaders who serve in various other ways. With the Spirit's help, they will make a huge difference this year. After our prep weekend with them, I'm so excited to see what they do!

Thank you for your prayers and thank you to those of you who partner financially with us. FOCUS is not a rich ministry, but I feel like the widow visited by Elijah in 1 Kings 17--the jar is never full but never goes empty. I think it's through depending on you and so many like you that the Lord teaches this community to depend on Him.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saying Goodbye and Prepping for the Year

Summer is always a major transition time for us in campus ministry. Some years, in addition to saying "goodbye" to graduating students and interns, we also have key staff people transition to other things. This year is particularly sad for me (though I'm very glad for this in the Lord!) because my sister and brother-in-law are transitioning off staff to lead the youth ministry at Wylie Northeast Church. Tyler and Brianna have been a major part of our mission for years.
Tyler and Brianna with their daughter Reese at the Collin End of Year Banquet a couple months back.
Tyler is our longest serving staff member except for me. He has worked at 3 of our campuses, including as one of our founding members at Collin College. All of his years on staff, he has worked full-time as a firefighter/paramedic and has never taken a salary from FOCUS! He is the consummate servant and a man of deep character and wisdom. Brianna has led the women at Collin these past few years, and I've loved every second of working with her. She has so much "ministry sense," as Mandy and I like to say. She loves deeply and has a passion for the kingdom transforming the lives of young people.

I'm so excited about this next chapter of their life and ministry. They are already developing an exciting vision for that youth ministry--one with a consistent record of feeding leaders into FOCUS, I might add. We have great people coming on board to fill their shoes at Collin next year, but they definitely have big shoes to fill!

We are also saying goodbye to Glenn, who has worked with our admin team for the past year. He was the mastermind behind the #FOCUS140 fundraiser that made it possible for us to launch new ministries on new campuses this year. And he drove the new website project (as well as lots of other behind the scenes work too). He has a great job at the Richards Group now, but plans to continue to volunteer some of his time with FOCUS as needed. We are so thankful for his year of service.
My buddy, Glenn
A few other things of note:

1. We have 3 young women who are going to be starting a small group at the TWU Dallas Nursing Campus this fall! Amber, who has been going to school there this past year, said "There's nothing down there at all," when asked about Christian outreach to that campus. Well, there will be soon! Please pray for this exciting new outreach.

2. Two of the students from UTD who we took to SICM this year were exchange students from Brazil, here for a special one-year program. They head back to their home country soon with a new vision for ministry and new skills to serve and bless their peers. Lucas wrote this letter, and I wanted to share it with you. Your influence is crossing borders!

3. Lastly, we are starting to plan for a big 20-year FOCUS Reunion in Fall 2016! The exact beginnings of FOCUS are a little murky, so the 1996 date is a little arbitrary, but we think it will capture every generation of FOCUS alumni. So if you are one of many past or present FOCUS members or advisors, stay tuned for more information!

Thank you for your prayer support, your emotional support, your financial support, and your friendship. I'm truly one of the most blessed men on earth.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Interpreting Matthew

"Interpreting Matthew" was the title of the class I took at Regent College in Vancouver for two weeks after SICM.  I wish I could say it was a mini-sabbatical, but I actually spent a lot of time working remotely, especially on launching our new website! If you haven't been to anyfocus.org in the past couple days, you should take a look at the new layout (though we're still plugging in some remaining details and working out the kinks). That was a much bigger project than I anticipated, and I'm very thankful to Glenn Lanier for starting it while he was still on staff and to Laurence for taking over and finishing it. If you give by recurring credit card donation, someone will be in contact with you about setting up a new donation on the new site. It has some better features, and we'll be canceling all the transactions from the old site soon.

But back to Regent College--I had the opportunity to take a class from Rikk Watts. I've listened to a few of his classes over the past few years, so he kind of seems like a celebrity to me and my staff. He certainly doesn't think of himself that way though! I remember the weird look on his face when we asked if we could take a picture with him... But he did it anyway!


I can't begin to capture here all that I learned in 25 hours of lecture and at least that many hours of reading (so far). But a few main thoughts stick out:

1.  Jesus is Yahweh among us! I think I started out thinking that the gospel writers just told the story and the letters in the New Testament unpacked them and explained more fully who Jesus really is. (I'm not sure how that made sense to me considering that I knew the letters were probably written first!) The more I study the Gospels, the more I realize they have profound and purposeful agendas in what they want to teach about Jesus. Just as it took the disciples years with Jesus as the gospel story unfolds to figure out who Jesus is and what He came to do, it takes us paying careful attention and asking purposeful questions to figure out what men like Matthew and Mark were really saying.

I've seen and heard about Jesus being like a new Moses in the Gospels, but Rikk kept showing us how we only get that (as the primary message) when we start with that assumption. For example, many people have compared the Sermon on the Mount to Moses giving the Law to the people at Mount Sinai. But at Sinai, the people didn't go up on the mountain to hear Moses give the law. Moses and his close disciples went up the mountain to hear Yahweh, the Great I Am, give the law. And then Matthew says, "Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them" (Mt 5:1-2). In Matthew's mind, Jesus isn't acting like Moses; Jesus is acting like God. And when I started looking for that, I found it on almost every page of Matthew's Gospel.

2. We need to know Israel's narrative a lot better than we do. Matthew is really concerned with the idea of "fulfillment." He loves the phrase "and thus was fulfilled" along with some Old Testament passage. And yet, so often when I go read those Old Testament passages in context, I'm puzzled. They don't seem to be prophecies about Israel's Messiah. Rikk took us through each of those references and my mind was blown by how sophisticated Matthew was in his thinking! Where did we get the idea that just because we live 2000 years later, we must be smarter and more sophisticated than them?! Matthew knows that God's character doesn't change, and thus He can be expected to act the same way again when similar things happen. So Matthew can look to a current event that echoes a historical one and see the current one fulfilling the old one. He knows not just the verses before and after the ones he quotes but the entire context. So when he quotes a verse, he expects it to call to mind for us a whole host of ideas and impressions. Just like if I said "Four score and seven years ago," you don't immediately subtract 87 from 2015--you think of the civil war, of the struggle to end slavery, of how the founding documents of our country couldn't stand if we didn't honor their conviction that all men are created equal. Because we know our story.

If we are Christians, then we need to know Israel's story because it has become our story too. Then when Matthew quotes, "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel," we will think of how in Isaiah 7, King Ahaz has just refused to ask God for a sign in the heavens because he doesn't want to obey God, and see, as Matthew did, that God gave a sign in the heavens about Jesus that the Jewish King refused to acknowledge. In fact, only pagan magi noticed it! We won't think the prophecy of calling him Immanuel makes no sense when they actually named him Jesus. Instead, we'll realize that in Isaiah, Immanuel wasn't good news--it was a warning that God is coming and you'd better be ready...or else. Matthew bringing that up gives a different tone to his "Christmas story." I could go on and on with details like this, but more than anything I was struck by my pride at thinking I could understand the New Testament while being lazy about understanding the Old Testament.

3. God wants mercy, not sacrifice. Rikk called it "living in the grammar of forgiveness." The fundamental concern of Israel's scriptures is the character of God. He reveals Himself as I Am Who I Am. The fundamental problem of the Israelites is idolatry--worshiping the wrong god. And Jesus reveals a God who is gentle and humble in heart (Mt 11:29). In Matthew 18, the disciples were very concerned over who would be "greatest" in the kingdom of heaven. And in response, Jesus talked about forgiveness (among other things). For Jesus, greatness and forgiveness are connected. If I think I'm a Great One, I'm going to be more offended when others wrong me and want to punish them more for hurting me. When I understand real greatness, I'll be full of mercy toward others. It's what makes Jesus, Yahweh among us, greater than all of us when He hangs on a tree to forgive the sins of the world. Do I look more like Him or more like the Pharisees and disciples who were so concerned with doing things right and being recognized for it? A challenging question. When I really understand mercy, I'll be willing to admit my faults and repent. When I really understand mercy, I'll realize I'm like a little child who brings nothing to the table--I didn't bring home the bacon; I just came home to eat, so I don't demand my own way or claim special privileges.

I could say a LOT more, but I wanted you to have a glimpse at what the Spirit is teaching me. I'm sure it will take years for me to really absorb all this and figure out what it means for my life and doctrine. I pray these things spur you on to further learning as well.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

3 things for you to do

SICM was last week, and I think the experience was summed up in a question one of the UTD freshmen asked me the last evening of the trip: "Is SICM always this amazing?" My answer: "Yep. That's why we keep coming back every year." SICM isn't just a great experience--it produces great fruit. Consistently. Thank you for praying for these students and to so many of you for financial support that makes these experiences possible. I'd love to tell you more about the conference in person or on the phone. Just ask!
These are just the UTD people we took to SICM. I love training this many new leaders for our campus!
In addition, when we sent the students back home, some of the staff guys and I drove on up to Vancouver, BC, to take a summer course at Regent College. I'm halfway through a class called "Interpreting Matthew," and it has been a great experience so far. I'm not quite ready to condense down what I'm learning because I have so many things going on in my head. But I'm recognizing again how much our faith and our scriptures are ultimately about God's character--being a Christian is about getting to know God and becoming like Him. Intimacy with God is both the goal and the means to that goal, both the end and the means.

I have 3 quick things you can do to help our ministry:

1. Pray for some key job searches at UTD
Some key positions have opened up at UTD that have the potential to deeply affect the ability of Christian missionaries to work effectively on campus. Our president, Dr. Daniel, is taking a higher job at the UT System level (read about it here) and a committee will be formed soon to conduct a nationwide search for a new president. In addition, the Dean of Students position and Assistant Dean of Students position are both open right now as well. Please pray for the women and men involved in filling these three important positions. Those decisions have the potential to radically shape campus ministry at UTD in the decade to come.

2. Amazon Smiles

If you shop on Amazon, you can start your shopping at Amazon Smiles (each time) and a portion of every purchase will go to support FOCUS. You can click on the link below to connect your account and then change any bookmarks to Amazon Smiles instead of Amazon. Everything costs the same and works the same, with the exception that on your phone it doesn't work through the app, only through the browser. I've been using this for a few weeks now and it works exactly the same as before! You can also click here if the image above doesn't show up.

3. Change out your internship prayer sheet ... because we added Albert!

I have some great news--we have accepted one more intern for the 2015-2016 school year. We knew that Albert Rodriguez was interested, but a number of things had to fall in place with his education to make it work this year, so we waited until May to have him apply and interview. He's an amazing young man, and I've been praying for him to try out ministry for the last couple years. I know many of you have started praying regularly for our incoming interns and their support raising. If that is you, please switch out this new prayer sheet for your old one.
If you'd like a larger version of this image, I can share it with you.
Your prayers are important. I'm convinced God works powerfully when his image bearers ask Him to in Jesus' name. My prayer for you is that you would have a blessed summer, and that your intimacy with God would grow in this season.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

New Interns!

Our 2015-2016 class of interns has been selected and it's an outstanding group of young people. Some are graduating and joining our staff immediately, while others are leaving the marketplace to return to campus and further their impact. All of them have at least an undergraduate degree. I hope that you will save the image below and use it to pray for them over the coming months as they prepare for their internship to start on August 1. Here they are!


More and more young people are being drawn to the FOCUS internship experience each year, helping us reach more and more students with the good news about Jesus. And the need is huge! I was reminded of that again today when a student coming by wrote this on one of our evangelistic discussion boards at Richland College:


The apostle Peter wrote, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). The enemy is at work, but Jesus is at work too, and in Him students and staff and professors can find life to the full. Pray for this young man and others like him. It's probably only a matter of time before one of our campuses experiences a tragedy of some sort, but let's pray for God's deliverance and for hurting young people to have powerful encounters with Jesus' people both on and off campus. Thank you for sending missionaries to the campus through prayers, encouragement, and financial support. God is moving and you are a part of it!

My prayer for you is that you will find a tangible way to love a young person this week. Let the Spirit guide you in that--stretch yourself and take a risk. If there are things I can be praying for you specifically, please let me know.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Tail End of 2014-2015

March was a busy month, but a better one. This time of year is always packed full of exciting stuff. Students are making commitments to the Lord and deciding to get serious about secret sins and issues. Student leaders are having meaningful conversations and preparing the final challenges and words of encouragement that they want to deliver as they disband their cores and send people off to summer or to graduation and beyond. Students see the end of the year approaching, and that sense of urgency creates all sorts of opportunities for meaningful ministry.

I've reflected over the years how these arbitrary finish lines can help people change and grow so much. Please take a moment to pray that every one of our students who is contemplating a change for the better this April wouldn't let the opportunity pass them by.

I had the opportunity to attend Alphonse's baptism a couple weeks back. He didn't grow up knowing about Jesus, and UTD was the perfect place to get to know him! Some of the guys were reaching out to him and inviting him to lots of stuff and trying to get him to study the Bible with them. At the same time, he noticed that one of the girls living in his hall, Tiffany, always wore a cross necklace. When he asked her about it one day, she didn't say "It's a Christian thing" or "My mom gave it to me." Instead, she took the opportunity to share with him the story of Jesus and His sacrifice and what it meant to her. Alphonse shared about how pivotal that moment was at his baptism, and I got to meet Tiffany because she came to celebrate with us! God is good, and he is working through His people all the time.

I thought you'd find this brief video of that baptism encouraging. The guy baptizing him, Grant, is one of the seniors I'm mentoring this year, and he will be a part of our team to pioneer FOCUS at UT Arlington this fall as he moves over there to work as an engineer for Bell Helicopter.

We also had an amazing Spring Showcase fundraiser for SICM this month. We raised nearly $9000 to train new leaders this summer, and had a great time with some incredible performances. One of the students who went to SICM last year took a couple minutes to explain the value of that trip. If you weren't at the Showcase, I encourage you to listen to him explain it and catch (or re-catch) the vision for the Student Institute of Campus Ministry.
Lastly, we are having our spring Pizza Theology for the students tomorrow. The title is "The End of the World as We Know It: Heaven, Hell, and Everything In Between." I have the task of teaching on the Biblical doctrine of hell, and preparing has been very challenging. But I'm excited to share what I've learned. I've been pondering the idea that in the scripture, doctrines are for something; they serve specific purposes. And just like using a tool for the wrong job risks damage to both the tool and whatever you are working on, I think using doctrines for different purposes than the scripture does risks both theological and pastoral damage.

In the scripture, the doctrine of eschatology (the study of last things) is used both to warn and to encourage. It is a warning to those who benefit from injustice. It is an encouragement to hold on for those who suffer because they follow God. And yet I wonder if this is what we always use this doctrine for. I think we are tempted to use it to figure out exactly when these things are going to happen and exactly what they will be like, perhaps to be ready but perhaps to simply satisfy our own curiosity. I think we are tempted to use the doctrine of hell to guilt people into mission work. Maybe we can safely extrapolate these ideas from what the scripture says, but I think we get into dangerous territory when we use these teachings and ideas in different ways than the biblical authors who originally penned them for us. I encourage you in your own study of scripture to reflect on the question of what teachings are for, and how we might best use them to God's glory.

I'm so thankful for each of you who pray for me, for students, and for all who live and work and learn on these campuses. I'm thankful for those of you who faithfully support this mission financially. Thank you for partnering with me!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quick update

I asked for prayers concerning ticket prices to SICM the other day. The group rates we were getting were well over $500 per person, and I told the students to be ready to pay $500. But we were able to get them for an average of $355, less than last year. That means we saved each student $145 and around $13,000 for our entire group of 91! Thanks for your prayers.

I also wanted to include the official advertisement for the Spring Showcase:



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Laying Groundwork for Next Year

I'm in the middle of some of the busiest months of my year. We're wrapping up annual reviews with my amazing staff, finishing up interviews for the 2015-16 internship, putting our group together for the annual SICM trip, and preparing to host 2 teams of students from Washington at the end of the month for outreach on our campuses--all on top of my regular schedule of appointments and teaching. I'm looking forward to the students leaving for Spring Break so I can catch my breath!

We have an outstanding group of potential interns this year, and I can't wait to share with you about them next month. As for SICM, we invited and are taking our biggest group ever! I think we'll take 77 students and 13 staff from our various campuses to be trained in campus ministry. Please pray for good airline prices as we will be buying lots of tickets in the next couple of days. (The group rates were ridiculous this year, so we are buying them piecemeal and averaging the cost for the students in hopes of saving money.)

And UTD has a bumper crop for SICM--55 of the 105 total students we invited are from UTD. So I'm really excited about our leader team for next year!
This was the first group that went to SICM back in 2002 (Leah Farmer Lorenz, me, Debra Boswell Bottoms, and Brad Davis), paid for in full by Glynn Lively. It's overwhelming to think how that investment has paid off, in so so many ways. I can't wait to share with you the picture of the 90ish people that will go this May to be equipped for ministry. God is good!
For those of you in the area, we have a special fundraiser coming up this month to help raise money for SICM, the Spring Showcase.  This will be a concert and art show held on March 28 at 8pm at Legacy Church in Plano. It will feature some great musical talent from students and also have student art available for purchase. We have some amazingly talented people across our community--I'm really looking forward to this event!

If you are interested in going, all of the students going to SICM this year are selling tickets or you can buy them at anyfocus.org/showcase.

Here's a taste of last year's concert--one of my favorite performances.  And Ana is singing again this year!



February was a tough month in some ways--students struggling with oppressive thoughts, finding out about significant illnesses, and some tough staff transitions. As always, I covet your prayers for this community. Pray for us to put on the full armor of God and stand firm (Ephesians 6). Please pray for Jacob who will have surgery to remove a brain tumor in the next week or so. I'm praying God will move and the doctors will not find what they are expecting. Thank you for praying! And thank you to those of you who partner with us financially to make it possible for me to invest in the lives of young people.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Winter Camp 2015

I can't imagine how Winter Camp this year could have gone better. We had nearly 500 people gather to worship, learn, pray, and play together for three days. I'm still hearing great feedback from students who were impacted, energized, and equipped to return to their campuses as maturing Jesus people. We see from Jesus' ministry that growth in numbers doesn't mean much by itself, but I'm encouraged that of those hundreds of students, only a handful signed up separate from one of our core groups. That tells me that nearly every student started the weekend tied in to the community with leaders who know them and are investing in them personally. (And hopefully they ALL ended the weekend that way!)

This was the big group--well over 400 college students plus some siblings and friends in their last year or two of high school, FOCUS staff people, and some alumni and supporters who came to help minister and bless students.
And here's the UTD group whooshing! Note there are a couple of alums in the bottom right corner with a little future Comet. Leah and Jared, the parents, are past leaders who have had a huge formative impact on our ministry--Leah was even one of the first 5 students involved!
Our speaker was Dr. Iain Provan, an Old Testament scholar from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.  He spent the weekend unpacking for us the goodness of God and His plan as revealed in the Old Testament. In keeping with our "Words of Life" theme this year, he spoke on Words about Creation, Words about God, Words about Being Human, Words about Suffering and Evil, and Words about Hope. He also did a nearly two-hour open Q&A on the Old Testament. Even though it was billed as an optional event, well over 300 students were in attendance.
Iain Provan
I think these words from Nikki, one of the UTD students who became a Christian this past year, capture it well: "Iain Provan's lectures were by far the best I've had thus far (sorry Brandon!). As one of many who did the [FOCUS Summer School of Ministry class] for Genesis, I couldn't help but take pages and pages of notes while Iain was speaking. It blew my mind to get not only his perspectives on some of the things discussed in the class, but just to dig once again below the surface of such an important piece to gain insight on a different approach to Genesis was mind blowing!! I definitely will re-read the application commentary and do more research just to see what else is out there!"
Since our students are studying at public colleges and universities, they typically don't get to study the Scriptures at a college level. Two things Iain said stick out to me: "Every Christian needs to be educated to the level of their ability" and "It's kind of scandalous to have a higher degree in something else and still be at level one in our biblical understanding." It's our intention to continue to bring in scholars as well as pastors as speakers at our various events to better equip our students for a lifetime of Christian service.
(Regent, a graduate school of Theology, describes itself as transdenominational, evangelical, and orthodox, with its first priority being to remain true to the orthodox faith as recorded in the Scriptures. One of their main focuses is on equipping and training the whole people of God, not just professional pastors. I've probably recommended it before, but the bookstore has a website where you can purchase mp3 recordings or CDs of many of the classes. If you have a commute or take long walks/runs in your regular schedule, this might be a great way to use that time to develop your ability to "love God with all your mind." You might start by searching for Iain Provan on regentaudio.com.)

A couple quick updates:
FOCUS 140 funds - We're still looking at how to best use the money raised to keep FOCUS growing in 2015. We're planning to overhaul our website and create an app to get ready for more campuses and more students in the next 5-10 years. We've been gathering an amazing team of staff and students to move to Arlington and launch the ministry at UTA, and we plan to buy them supplies for outreach and also subsidize a team-building and planning retreat sometime this summer.

Rooms at UTD - We now have rooms for every Friday night this semester...except for next week! We have some great churches in the area who have offered to host us so we may move off campus for that one night. Please say a prayer that we don't have these problems again in the Fall!

Thank you for your gifts and prayers to make all these things possible. Together, we're blessing a lot of students. I hope it's a blessing and encouragement to you as well!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

So much to tell!

Prayer Requests

We're back from our Christmas holiday and school starts Monday at UTD.  With that right around the corner, I have a couple of big prayer requests:

1. Winter Camp is January 16-19. This can be a pivotal moment in the year for so many students, so pray that everyone who needs to be there chooses to come. Getting everyone there is a big job for our entire leader team.

2. We are having a lot of trouble getting rooms reserved for the semester on campus at UTD. This came out of left field since we haven't had trouble like this in years. Pray for God to give us favor with the administration and break this logjam so we can have our Friday night services on campus.

I know the university is struggling to keep up with rapid growth and is doing their best to accommodate the needs of all the various groups. To give you some idea of the incredible growth UTD has experienced, take a look at this graphic:
These average SAT scores are among the highest in the state, which gives you an idea of the kind of bright students I get to work with at UTD!

FOCUS 140 Update

The next thing I want to say is that our First Annual Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative (#FOCUS140) has been a huge success! To date, we've raised

$29,863.19!!!!!!

This is so exciting for us as we look toward pioneering new ministries at UTA and NCTC and increasing our impact where we have already planted. Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you who participated, shared the news, and prayed for it. We are working now on how to most effectively put that money to work for the kingdom, and I'll work to keep you posted on how we use it.

The Contemplative Pastor

Yesterday we got back from our winter staff retreat. With our staff spread out over a few cities in the area, this is one of our few opportunities to share vision and minister to one another, and it's a critical experience for our interns every year. Over Christmas break, everyone on staff read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.


The book was good for me on a number of levels. It's very meditative. He gives three words he thinks describes good pastors--unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic. (Not three I would have picked!) He writes poems and reflects on poems. He talks about "the ministry of small talk" and tells the story of a sabbatical he took to pray and play and write.

One of the most powerful ideas for me came when he was talking about John writing Revelation as a pastor to his churches: "St. John is terrifically urgent, but he is not in a hurry." I think that describes Jesus' and Paul's ministries as well: urgent, but not in a hurry. When I get in a hurry, I miss opportunities and do sloppy work. When I get in a hurry, I don't notice Zacchaeus up in the tree. When I get in a hurry, I get to the next challenge before God has fully prepared me for it. Please pray for me that I can match God's pace in my ministry and life with Him.

New Friends

Lastly, a couple of stories. At our first FOCUS meeting at UTD this past fall, I got to meet an amazing young woman. She grew up in the Bahamas and completed her first two years of college at the University of Miami. She told me in that first encounter that she transferred to UTD because God told her to, but she didn't know why. Reminds me of Abraham picking up and moving because God said "Go!" No one had really discipled her up to that point, but the Lord had clearly been mentoring her. I've loved getting with her every week to discuss the scriptures and hear how the Lord is moving in her life. She's definitely one to watch--the Lord has big plans for her!

Part way through the semester, her boyfriend, who had already graduated, found a job in Dallas and moved here. After a few weeks, he asked if we could study the Bible together. He has a Christian background, but had never read the scriptures on his own. Each week I assign him a new book of the Bible to read, and each week it takes us nearly 2 hours to cover his questions and thoughts about it. I love reading and discussing the scriptures with him and seeing his sweet heart for the Lord. So far, he has read Matthew, John, Acts, 1 Corinthians (twice!), and now Genesis. After reading Matthew and John, I asked him what stood out to him most about Jesus. He said he noticed how Jesus didn't treat everyone the same--the ones who didn't know anything were treated with great mercy while a higher standard was applied to those religious leaders who should know better. I was blown away by such a profound insight into the heart of our very good and just God. He's an amazing young man, and I'm excited to develop this friendship in the Lord.


I've been so encouraged by getting to spend time with these two. They are like so many young people today, drifting in and out of churches waiting for someone to invest in them and raise them up to lead in the kingdom. Thank you for sending me to spend time with them, and for bathing this ministry in prayer; together we are planting many seeds and harvesting good fruit!

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