Thursday, December 29, 2016

Keep FOCUS Growing!

We only have a few days left for our Keep FOCUS Growing Annual Fund. We're trying to wrap up raising $55,000 by December 31. Our monthly giving basically allows us to break even (hopefully!) each year. It's this money given at the end of each year that allows us to expand and do new things.

As we grow to at least 10 total campuses in 2017 (SMU, here we come!), we have bigger administrative needs. An image that's in my mind is that of a train and its tracks. If our campus pastors are the train bringing good news to students, then our admin team are the ones laying the tracks so they can get there. We are planning to bring on our first full-time administrator in January (to work with a couple of other adjunct people) to help support our growing staff of nearly 30 pastors.

We also will need extra resources to reach out on our newer campuses. We don't do nearly as much free food and such as most other ministries I'm aware of, but some of these campuses have very little in the way of campus life, and putting on events can be a great way for us to meet new students who need to know Jesus. And as we expand, having a little extra in the bank allows us to bring on incredible new staff and not worry about whether they are able to be fully fundraised by August 1. We want them on campus full-time as soon as the students arrive, not spending those precious first weeks of the school year meeting with potential ministry supporters.

I know many of you have given to this fund in past years and I am so thankful to you. Without this fund, we would be having a much smaller impact. I ask each of you to pray about possibly giving an extra gift this week, whether it be $3 or $300 or $3000.  Everything you need is at anyfocus.org/next20. I also ask you to pray that God will provide everything we need. He always has and I'm confident He will.

I wanted to wrap up with something one of our students, Stephanie, shared with the UTD ministry about why she gave to keep FOCUS growing:


Stephanie, one of our UTD student leaders
"Like countless others, I see this community as my family. What it stands for, I stand for: inviting people to find a home for their souls with God and his people. Families are reciprocal: each member contributes what they can for the good of the whole. Somebody cooks, somebody washes the dishes, somebody takes out the trash. Not everybody does equal work, but that’s ok and you do your best. Everyone is cared for. This is one way to think about giving: providing for your spiritual family for the good of the not only individuals but the whole. I see the “keep FOCUS growing” initiative as providing the extra for the strangers who are not yet part of our family. It’s adding extra seats to the table and making extra food for those family dinners."

I love that image--adding extra seats to the table and making extra food for the family dinner. I pray that we all have that effect on God's final banquet.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

You've Gotta Read This Student's Story

I loved reading Sammy's testimony this month. This is why we do what we do!

Sammy (Freshman, Collin College - Spring Creek Campus, Nursing)
"My name is Sammy and I am a freshman at Collin College. During this past summer I went through a dark stage of my life. After a rough break up I was left feeling depressed and alone. On July 27th the depression had become so bad that I attempted suicide, and I didn’t tell anyone about it. A month later I heard about FOCUS through Matt at a Welcome Week event on campus, and after having a conversation he invited me to FOCUS. My core group and FOCUS helped me see I wasn’t alone; they showed me the love of Jesus and it drove me to become a Christian. I’ve learned how much Jesus loves people and how he cares for everyone. I’m closer to God than I have ever been before, and I feel loved in a safe community. God has changed my life through Focus!"

The Annual Fund


The past two years have seen us pioneer ministries on 3 new campuses and reach out to hundreds of new students with the good news of Jesus. One of the main things making all that possible has been our annual year-end fundraiser. It allows us to invest in student outreach, put pastors on campus who would otherwise have to spend time support raising, and generally seize opportunities that the Lord puts in our path. 
The Keep FOCUS Growing Fund will play a huge role in what 2017 looks like as we pray and consider what to do at SMU, how and whether to expand our Collin outreach, how to grow our presence at UTA, and how many of our amazing young apprentices to bring on to our long-term ministry staff. These are important decisions that will have major repercussions over the next 20 years!

So I'd like to ask you to do 2 things:
1. Pray for God to provide richly for the mission to these campuses. He has always given us what we need, and we are confident He will continue to do so if we continue asking in faith.
2. Maybe the Lord would want you to be a part of the answer to that prayer--would you consider giving a special gift? You can go to anyfocus.org/next20 for everything you need to know.

We'll have our last Friday meeting this week--our Christmas devotional outdoors in the middle of campus. We are looking forward to sharing the powerful meaning of Christmas with each other and with students who walk up and join.
Pray also for our students as they go home for the Christmas break. Many come from difficult family situations, and all of them will have the opportunity to reflect the light of Christ to their family and friends. It can be an amazing time of growth or a step backward--let's pray God moves powerfully in and through these young people.

Thank you for your prayers and gifts and friendship toward me and the students and ministers in this community. You play a crucial role in this mission to the campus.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Busy October

These last couple months have been especially busy, but we are starting to wrap things up for the holidays. Next week the UTD students have the entire week off for Thanksgiving and a fall break. Then we're back for less than 3 weeks before Christmas break. We only have 2 more Friday night meetings, a Christmas Party, and a special Christmas devotional. The cores are finishing up their last 2-3 times together as well. I'd ask you to pray that we can make the most of these pivotal weeks and not get distracted from the opportunities the Lord has given us by exams and the impending holidays.

With the 20 Year Celebration last month, I've been thinking about how thankful I am for that original FOCUS group that I came into as a freshman. It was certainly different in a number of ways, but Dave Drayton and the leaders he raised up had a HUGE impact on my life and on the lives of so many others. I got my vision for campus ministry there, made so many friends, and laid the foundation for my adult relationship with God. Those were blessed years, and they are still bearing good fruit!
Only a fraction of the old crew could make it that night, but it was wonderful to see each and every one of them!
So Many October and November Events!

I wish you could hear all the students talking about them!
The Friday night before Halloween, we had our FNF service before a costume party. Students brought friends and the service included a meditation on the faith and art of Vincent Van Gogh.

We had a special guest lecture in place of one of our Friday night meetings at UTD. Daniel Rangel came from Ravi Zacharias Ministries to talk about sexuality. His talk was aimed at pre-Christian students

Peter and Sarah taught a class on campus about Jesus and Politics in the lead up to the election.

David Knebel from CCF in Washington State flew in to teach our Pizza Theology on Hearing God's Voice. About 450 students showed up for 4 hours of teaching!
We had our annual Leadership Conference. A couple hundred current and potential student leaders came to learn about growing their inner life with God.

Student Testimony

Sierrah Martinez (Junior, Texas Women’s University, Nursing)
"Last fall, I started to seek out a deeper relationship with Christ. I never thought that by seeking out that relationship, amazing things would happen. In the spring, I was a transfer student and very new to the Denton community, but as soon as I got in touch with FOCUS I felt at home. From the very beginning, I was amazed by the warmth of the community and amazed by the sermons about God’s work. It was easy to show up to core and Friday Night Fellowship at UNT and just sit and listen. The more I listened the more I realized that God had a bigger plan, and FOCUS showed me that.

"When doing my FOJ study and participating in outreach, I learned that I was created to be a disciple as a testimony of God’s love for me. He pulled me out of the darkness and into the light so that I could be an example of Him, and I am thankful everyday for that. Through FOCUS, I have learned and experienced for the first time what community is like and how important it is. I have made friends who have invested in me from the moment I met them and my friendships are continuously growing. Through FOCUS, I have been able to set goals for myself that reflect God’s will and from that I find peace because I am saved."

Thank you for your financial gifts, you friendship, and your prayers. For you parents and grandparents, thank you for sharing your young person with us. God is doing cool things through our partnership on campus.

Monday, October 3, 2016

20 Years and Another Great Fall Camp

First off, if you haven't decided yet, I wanted to make sure you got one last invitation to our 20 Year Celebration this Saturday. It's going to be a great event!





















Fall Camp

Last week we had our Fall Camp for UTD, Richland, and TWU Dallas. We had about 180 people come out! Our theme for the year is "Be Brave," and we spent those 24 hours diving deep into it. I wish you could have heard 7 brave students stand up and share about different areas in which God has taught them to trust instead of giving in to fear. Students shared about the impact of eating disorders, parental neglect, expressiveness in worship, the hard work of forgiving, confessing sin and living in the light, among others. The students were so impacted by having their peers open up to the community out of love. It sparked a lot of vulnerability within our cores that weekend.

Karlo sharing.
Remember the parachute from middle school PE?
Students bonding and playing games.
Student Testimony

Gordon, seen here sharing at camp, wrote our student testimony this month.
"Last year, God really blessed me through FOCUS. I experienced a lot of growth and was presented with multiple awesome opportunities. So this year, I was really excited to be a corefa and have the opportunity to give back. Before the year even started, I saw God working on our campus. Welcome Week was a blast; I saw people in our community reaching out to others, loving them, including them, and welcoming them to UTD. Being shy and inexperienced with outreach and talking to strangers, Welcome Week was something I had dreaded. But the Spirit really inspired me and gave me an excitement for meeting others and getting to know them. The Spirit pushed me to get over myself and focus on others. Since then, I’ve been thrilled to see those freshmen and new students continue to be involved in FOCUS and to see them being invested in the same way I experienced last year. In my own core, I’ve seen real friendships being formed--friendships that are already vulnerable and open to talking about serious issues and struggles. In October, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of FOCUS; I’m celebrating a community that is selfless in its pursuit of loving others."

Thank you for being selfless in your pursuit of loving others through prayer, through parenting well, and through investing financially in campus missions. You're impacting the future of college students! Whether, you get to make it to the 20 Year Celebration this weekend or not, know that I'll be celebrating your part in all this!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

We Survived Welcome Week!

And it went great! You prayed for our students to be bold, Spirit-filled missionaries, and God answered in a huge way!

Weather caused us to cancel or reschedule basically every single event we had planned to reach out to freshmen at UTD, but it also led to one of our best Welcome Weeks ever! So many more students were out and about in the cooler weather (highs in the mid-80s in August!?), and they were ready to make friends and hang out. And this group of student leaders and returning students were amazing! They drew in tons of new people for our impromptu events like Zombie Tag and Games on the Mall.

Here students are listening to the rules for Zombie Tag. There was no way to capture the whole crowd in one picture. Freshmen LOVE this game and keep asking when we're going to play it again.
Just a sampling of different groups playing games on the mall--games like Spikeball, Four Square, and Giant Jenga. This wouldn't have worked in normal August weather!
All of this led up to our FNF Kickoff last Friday night. I didn't count, but around 250 students showed up! 130 signed up for our brown bag hangout, and the Corefas have hundreds of students who have signed up for cores to contact and invite from the last couple weeks. If we didn't have 50 strong student leaders, that many new students would scare me, but I know we have the workers to provide authentic love and care to each of them. 
Back in Davidson Auditorium for our first FNF with Abbie Malone giving our "Invest in the Vision" talk. (She's quite a preacher!) Again, there was no where to stand and get the entire room in the shot, but we came close to filling the back section as well.
I want to say thank you to each of you that has invested in this ministry financially and to each of you who has prayed for it. Your participation is essential! And I want to say a special thanks to those of you who have started giving or increased your giving over the past couple of months. God really answered my prayers through you!

As a final encouragement, read this testimony from one of our recent graduates who has moved into the mission field. She's awesome:
Michelle Nelson (University of Texas at Dallas, Graduated 2014)
"I came to college knowing about God but not knowing God. I didn’t grow up as a Christian but went to youth group with friends in high school. As an overachieving perfectionist I saw church as a place to prove myself. Religion was a set of rules explaining how to be “good”. As is all too common, I had completely missed the point of Jesus.

FOCUS quickly turned my attitude about God upside down. Seeing so many people who were willing to say “these are my flaws. I’m not good, but God is” was life changing for me. These people clearly knew God and had a relationship with Him. Yet they weren’t perfect and weren’t pretending to be. It’s still difficult for me to remember that I can simply accept God’s grace; He wants me to have it. I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not responsible for earning grace on my own. God has a sense of humor. Shortly after leaving UTD, God called me to Thailand. I now live in a country that is 95% Buddhist. I am immersed in a culture that is obsessed with earning merit. I see the Thai people worship idols and give offerings, and it breaks my heart. Then I look at my own life and see that, in my own way, I am trying just as hard to earn merit. God is so strategic. He puts you exactly where you need to be. He knew I needed to be in FOCUS. And now he’s brought me to Thailand to minister to people who share the same heart struggle as me. FOCUS changes students’ lives and then sends them out to minister to others. And because of that, I truly believe FOCUS will reach the world."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Answered Prayers and a New Prayer Request for Welcome Week

I just wanted to give an update on the things you've been praying for. God provided in huge ways! No surprise there! After what seemed like slow start to our support-raising season, I think we're in an even better place than we've been in years past. We have enough to send every staff missionary out full-time to our campuses. As we ramped up our praying, God ramped up His working. We started having people calling and asking to give with some consistency and people sending in significantly more than they said they would. God keeps using this support raising season to teach us to trust Him and also to build and deepen significant relationships.

Thanks to all of you for interceding for college students. The need now is to pray for our students to be bold, Spirit-filled missionaries during these first two weeks (freshmen started moving in at UTD today!). There will be events for them to attend every day, so they'll need a special measure of energy and stamina, especially once they are also attending classes next week. And they'll need courage and the words to say to initiate and deepen new relationships. Please be praying that we will have eyes to see where God is working and join in. Thousands of new students are coming to campus and every single one of them needs an encounter with Jesus through His people.
Here's a list of all the events coming up in the next few days at UTD. The blue ones are events we are putting on and the pink ones are big campus events that all of our students will attend to meet people.
We deeply appreciate every prayer you pray; I know God will do amazing things in response!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ramping Back Up for 2016-17!

First off, thank you, thank you, thank you. I am so blessed to have such an amazing group of partners who pray faithfully and give generously so that this mission to the campus can continue to grow and flourish. I wish I could convey to you even a tenth of all the cool stories I get to experience and hear. Hearts are being changed; lives are being blessed; people are being adopted into God's great family. And you are part of it!

Beyond UTD

This year, our UTD, Richland, and TWU Dallas leadership will again be working closely together to reach these three campuses. Richland and TWUD will again be bringing their groups to our Friday Night FOCUS meetings at UTD, and we'll have one combined student leadership team. This was SO GREAT last year! Each group of students brings something unique to the table, and God is actively teaching us about unity in the midst of diversity.

I'm so excited in particular about Sirak's work at Richland. As far as I know, there are no other full-time Christian workers on that campus of around 14000 students. The opportunities are huge! Check out this story from one of the Richland students we encountered last year:

Miles Morris, Richland College, Mass Communications
"I recently went through a period of situational depression. There wasn’t an entire day that went by where I was happy with my place in life. Some days, I seemed jovial and was up for a good laugh. Other days, however, were full of sadness and discontent. I remember I broke down and cried three times back in 2014. I even almost committed suicide. I had been born and raised in a Christian family, but my faith often felt lacking quite a bit. Something I’ve often heard from my mother was that you’ve got to do your part in order for God to do His. I think God was telling me to do my part by joining FOCUS. FOCUS has given me a sense of community that I don’t think I could find anywhere else. I think it has helped me enhance my faith in God and see that with Him, all things are possible. It’s helped me to expand my circle of friends and, more importantly, renewed and restored my faith. I think there’s still some work for me to do to get closer to God, but being a part of FOCUS has helped me to gain some traction on that front. As I move forward with life, I pray that my faith becomes more solid than it was in the past."

Please join me in praying for Richland College, and that Miles will go deeper in his faith and have an impact on others this coming year.

The Richland ministry faces many unique challenges with so many students from low income families. There's no on-campus housing, and many of the students either have to take the bus (a very slow process) or get rides everywhere. But in response to our prayers, God has provided cars (for free!) for two of our key student leaders! They'll not only be able to get where they need to go more efficiently; they are both true servants who will be making sure their peers get where they need to go. Praise God!

Summer's Over (for FOCUS Campus Missionaries at least!)

It's crazy to me that our brief summer season is coming to a close. Starting on Aug 1, our new group of apprentices comes on board, and we'll begin in earnest preparing our student missionaries for the massive influx of freshmen and transfer students coming at the end of the month. Please start praying now for 2 things:
  1. That God would cause us to love these new students before we even meet them. We want our mission on campus to be a labor of love, not just of duty. We want His love for them in our hearts so they get to experience Him through us.
  2. That we would Be Brave to initiate with those new students during Move-in, Welcome Week, and beyond. "Be Brave" is our theme for the year, and I'm excited to see how God uses it to empower young adults to love and serve.
20 Year Celebration!

Lastly, we're going to be celebrating all that God has done in the first 20 years of FOCUS on October 8, and you're invited!
You can RSVP at this link: anyfocus.org/celebrate20


Friday, July 1, 2016

An Important Prayer Request and Good News!

Today is July 1, which means our staff and new apprentices have one month to finish raising our support for the next year of campus missions. Will you stop and pray right now that God would provide richly for every person He has called to this mission? 

I mentioned last month that I need to raise at least an additional $500/mo this summer toward our total budget. I haven't even really started on this yet since I've been focused in June on selecting a new student leader team for UTD, but you guys have already offered an additional $210/mo! Thank you!

As a reminder, here's how you can help:
1)  If you are currently a monthly partner, help me reach this goal in one of two ways:
  • Will you recruit one friend or family member to join our mission by matching your monthly gift?
  • Can you increase your monthly support by 5-10%? 
2)  If you are not currently a financial partner, consider joining my support team with a monthly or special gift. Signing on is easy! Go to anyfocus.org and click on “Donate”. Or you can touch base with me directly to see what this might look like for you.

Brooklyn's Story (from UT Arlington!)

Brooklynn Turner
Social Work Major
"I grew up with a single mom and was privileged to grow up in a Christian household. Leaving for school was a big step for me, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Coming into college I felt I had two options: I could go off, explore the party scene, and be rebellious in way that I never really have, or I could pursue my faith. During welcome week I met some of the student leaders in FOCUS; they really seemed to be interested in my life and pursued my friendship in a way that I wasn’t used to. I took that as my sign. Since then, my corefas and the other leaders in FOCUS have taught me, and displayed what living life with Jesus as a disciple looks like. Prior to college I was a Christian, but I wouldn’t say I was a disciple. Studying FOJ challenged me in that aspect. I have come to know how freeing it is to give my life completely over to God and let him set my priorities. Most of my favorite memories from my freshman year have centered around, or at least involved, the friends I have made in FOCUS. I have made deep, meaningful, Christ‐centered relationships that I wouldn’t have found, or known how to find without community. FOCUS has loved me in a way that I haven’t experienced outside of my family, and as an orientation leader, I want all of my freshman orientees to have that as well."

Good News for UT Dallas

Many of you have connections with UTD, and I see God's wisdom in starting our mission at such an exciting, growing, ambitious university. UTD has shaped FOCUS in profound ways. This article was an encouraging look at how far UTD has come and where it's going. It's well worth the quick read if you are interested.


Thank you for your prayers and financial support and for loving college students!

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's Summer!

 

The Lord answered our prayers for SICM! 
We took 112 committed young men and women for a week of training, and it's already paying off. I asked one young man from UTD halfway through the week how his SICM experience had been so far. He answered in one word: "Transformational." 

Those students came back fired up and ready to serve. I've already had a handful of conversations with young men who want to step up and serve their peers as corefas at UTD this coming year. I know they will grow so much by making and keeping this commitment to consider not only their own interests, but also the interests of others (Phil 2:3-4). I'll spend a significant portion of my summer selecting and equipping our men's leadership team for the coming year. Please pray for wisdom for me as I make these pivotal decisions with my team.

Thank you for giving and praying to make this possible. 

Our 2016 SICM crew!

We wrapped up our 2015-16 internship program the week we got back from SICM. 
Each of the 14 interns preached a sermon to a group of pastors about the biggest 3 lessons God has been teaching them through their internship. You would have been so encouraged to hear the diverse ways God moved in each of them! For each one, He did something unique in their heart, mind, and life even as He used them to do something unique in the hearts, minds, and lives of college students. As the years pass, I've become more and more convinced that investing in young people is one of the best investments we can ever make! 

4 of those young ministers are joining our pastoral staff as campus missionaries moving forward. The others are going as missionaries into other careers and graduate school programs. I'm so excited to see how God uses each of them!

Richardson East Church of Christ has generously offered to host our Thursday night summer meetings for the students who are still in town. You are very welcome to join us any Thursday in June or July at 7:30pm.

Expansion!

Over the past 6 years, FOCUS has expanded from 2 campuses to 9 campuses, and from a staff of 4 to a staff of nearly 30. I've had to change my schedule, my prayer life, my skill-set, and my character in order to effectively equip and train and disciple this many young ministers. But it has increased our impact tenfold!

Along with this expansion of mission, opportunity, and responsibility comes expansion in our budget. I raise not only my own personal support, but I also help raise money to help put younger staff on campus full-time. I'd like to raise $500 in additional monthly support this summer. Here are a few ways you can help:

1)  If you are currently a monthly partner, help me reach this goal in one of two ways:
  • Can you “phone a friend”? You partner financially in this mission because you believe in the incredible potential of reaching university students in DFW with the Gospel. Will you recruit one friend or family member to join our mission by matching your monthly gift?
  • Can you increase your monthly support by 5-10%? Perhaps you haven't reevaluated your support in a few years, and even a small increase by a few of you could get me close to my goal!

2)  If you are not currently a financial partner, consider joining my support team with a monthly or special gift. Signing on is easy! Go to anyfocus.org and click on “Donate”. Or you can email or call me to discuss what this might look like for you.

DFW has lots of churches, but very few people or churches are actively reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of college students who are right down the street from us. Through your prayers and giving, we've launched vibrant campus missions on 9 campuses so far, and together, we will do much more in the years to come! I'm excited to see how Jesus will use FOCUS to raise up a generation of committed disciples and leaders to His glory.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Turning 37

It's crazy to think that I'm turning 37 today. I've been a committed Christian for 22 years and involved in campus ministry for nearly 19 of them! I finished my degrees and started as a campus pastor 14 years ago this month, and I can't tell you how blessed I feel that the Lord has set me on this path.

I work with amazing, passionate, loving people every day. I spend time with young people who are making important decisions and haven't had time to become cynical yet. :) I have a team of financial partners and prayer warriors backing me up who encourage me and inspire me to be my best and to make an impact for Christ. I'm nearly 20 years in, and I'm so excited about the next 20. My prayer is that the Lord will keep me here and let me see this work through, as long as I'm still what this mission needs. Thank you to all of you who love me and spur me on to love others.

With next year in mind, I'd love to introduce our new class of apprentices and ask you to be in prayer for them this summer as they raise support and do their preparatory studies. It's an outstanding group this year! I know I'll have exciting stories to report from them next year.

You could print this picture and use it as a reminder to pray for these 7 young people.

Something cool we've been doing at UTD is having Christian professors come to share their testimonies at our main weekly meeting. Students have been powerfully motivated by seeing professors from various academic disciplines openly profess their faith in Christ and share how that impacts the way they teach and do research. One of the recurring themes this year has been professors challenging our students about the impact they, as students, can have on their professors! If you have a few minutes, I know you would be very encouraged by the last prof to share this school year. You can listen to her talk by clicking on the link below:

Friday Night Professor's Sharing Link

I'm so thankful for all that the Lord does in you and through you. He will take every good work, whether public or hidden, and work it into His glorious redemptive plan. And He will take every tragedy, every mistake, every heartache and do the same with those. What a good and wise God we serve!
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people,this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Eph 3:8-12)
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Values

Our Final All-Campus Event

The school year is coming to a close in the next few weeks, and we've all been working hard to finish well. We had our second Pizza Theology of the school year this past Sunday, this time wrestling with issues of gender, marriage, and sexuality. We had well over 400 students show up to spend four hours diving deep into this topic! The recording should be up on our site in the coming days for those of you who may be interested. As always with Pizza Theology, our goal is not to tell the students what to think but to get them thinking and give them building blocks for thinking like a Christian on an important topic. Our three alumni speakers did an awesome job at that.

Getting ready to start teaching. It takes a lot to get that many people quiet when they're with their friends! 
Brad Davis teaching on sexuality. I wish you could have seen his tribal dance when he talked about sexuality across cultures.
Laying a Firm Foundation

I had the opportunity to preach to our UT Arlington community last week, and it got me thinking about how we lay a foundation for healthy Christian community. Paul wrote "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care" (1 Cor 3:10). The reality in planting a ministry is that it's hard to re-lay a foundation once it's been laid; it's hard to change a community's values once they've adopted them. I gave this challenge to our UTA community and wanted to share it with you because it gives some insight into what FOCUS is really about. But more than that, I think these values are needed in all of our churches today.

Here is a summary of my message to the UTA students:
You are laying the foundation of a community here that, Lord willing, will last for many years to come. Just like the people who built the original buildings here at UTA will probably never meet you, you may never meet many or most of the people who you are building this community for. But what you do now affects them! Paul knew that. He “laid a foundation as an expert builder” and said, “no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ”

We need to lay those values carefully, starting with the core of the gospel. When I think about our core values, about the things God has taught us that are important to everything we do, 3 things rise to the top.

Value #1 - Jesus is Lord (This is the good news!)
This is where we unify. It's the thing we have to agree on. It's at the heart of the gospel. We joke that it's our entire doctrinal statement. Paul said, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3) Even as we come from diverse backgrounds and have so many different practices and convictions, we come together as one because we we all agree on this one central thing. 

But it's not enough to give lip service to this--it has to be about the real Jesus, the real good news. Paul was frustrated with the Corinthian church when he wrote these words: "For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" (2 Cor 11:4). And in Galatians: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!" (1:6-8)

As a community, we have to be committed to the good news as revealed in Jesus, passed on to us by the apostles in the New Testament writings. We have to take seriously God's name--I AM WHO I AM. He reveals who He is through the scripture and we have to start there to get to know Him.

Value #2 - Real friendships (This is where we are good news to others.)

In the New Testament, church is all about the "one another" passages!
  • Love one another
  • Wash one another’s feet
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love
  • Honor one another above yourselves
  • Live in harmony with one another
  • Stop passing judgment on one another
  • Accept one another as Christ accepted you
  • Forgive one another
  • Bear with one another
  • Spur one another on toward love and good deeds
  • Confess your sins to one another
  • Use your gifts to serve one another
  • Teach one another
  • Pray for one another
There are 50-60 of these! And most modern churches actively obey only a handful of them.

This stuff happens in the context of real friendships. It’s much messier than putting on a show once a week. But it’s also more real and more godly and more faithful to our calling from God.

Value #3 - Raising up leaders (This is where we leave good news for a new generation.)

The church is too good at raising up generations of followers. But we haven’t done a good job imitating Jesus, whose ministry was ALL ABOUT raising up and empowering leaders!

Paul captures it in 2 Timothy 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

This is more than a sound bite! It’s Paul explaining what Jesus’ ministry was all about. It’s the apprentice imitating his master.

You guys have a cool opportunity to build something awesome at UTA. I remember those challenging early days as a student at UTD, trying to lay a foundation and protect it against the various dangers that came up. It cost a lot, but in hindsight, it was so worth it! And it’s still building and bearing fruit. Skyscrapers need deep foundations, so don’t get in a hurry. Lay carefully. So many people are rooting and praying for you.

I hope you can be encouraged by that message to a new community on a new campus. I am deeply thankful that you are purposefully and carefully, through prayer and generosity and friendship, helping us to lay a deep and lasting foundation of Jesus on these campuses. To God be the glory!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Our Biggest SICM Crew Ever!

The school year is rushing along to a conclusion, and I'm spending a lot of time looking forward to next year already. We invited 45 guys from UTD to the Student Institute of Campus Ministry this year, and about 24 are going! That's a record for a single gender from a single campus, and it's also a testament to the amazing team that I have in Laurence and Sirak and Peter. God continues to do great things in the lives of guys on our campus. We have a number of young men considering becoming followers of Jesus right now. They've been studying the scriptures and talking through the faith with their core leaders for months. Please say a prayer that God would bring a great harvest in the next couple of months.

Overall, we're taking an incredible 115 students to SICM this year (compared to 78 last year)! We only invite students who haven't been before and who we think could step up to lead a core next year. So this is a sign of great things to come for 2016-2017.

To make sure our students are able to afford SICM, we have a great event coming up. Many of you were able to attend the Spring Showcase last year, and the show was phenomenal! I was blown away by the talented musicians and artists, most of whom are students or alumni from FOCUS. Well, it's coming up again in just a few weeks, and I'd love for all of you to be a part of it. I promise the show will be amazing! Here are the details:

April 2nd, 2016
Art sale starts at 6:30PM; Show starts at 7:30PM
North Dallas Community Bible Fellowship
(2801 E President George Bush Hwy, Plano, TX 75074)
Purchase Tickets Online: anyfocus.org/springshowcase OR in person from students who will be attending SICM this year. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students. 


People mistake me and Peter for twins all the time.
A huge portion of my time is spent developing younger ministers and leading our staff across DFW. It's some of my favorite work. This year, I've been mentoring one of our 14 interns--Peter Ueng--and I'm excited to let you know that we have invited Peter to stay on staff with us at UTD in the coming years, and he has agreed! We only invite the cream of the crop to join our senior staff, and by the time someone has been a student leader for a few years and then spent a year on staff through the internship, we know them very well. Peter has been so much fun to work with and brings a lot to our staff team. He is a man of God, and I can't wait to see how he develops and grows in the coming years.

Thank you for all the ways you serve and give to bless others. I know those investments reap powerful rewards. Speaking of, here's a 10-minute TED Talk on how money can buy happiness. It's worth a listen.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Exciting News!


We promised the students we would take the polar plunge if we succeeded in reaching our goal, so here's a quick video of my UTD team jumping into some very cold water!

So first off, we met our $45,000 goal for the Keep FOCUS Growing Initiative! The gifts just kept rolling in throughout December and January, and we crossed the finish line the day we got back from Winter Camp. What a blessing! Thank you to all of you who took part in and prayed for this. Our needs this year might not sound as exciting to you as pioneering mission work on new campuses, but this money will help us put systems and people in place on the back end to make sure we can keep moving forward in our mission. I think of administration in this way: someone has to lay the tracks before the train can bring the workers and resources to where they are most needed.

Winter Camp was amazing this year. We consistently have students tell us it was the best weekend of their life so far, and this year was no exception. Rikk's core message about what Yahweh is like resonated powerfully with so many. I've especially heard a lot of non-Christians from various religious backgrounds who were struck by that message and are considering Jesus in a fresh way.

One thing he said (when reflecting on Jesus' relationship to the Sabbath rules) that I can't get out of my head is that "Church isn't about rule-keeping; it's about people-keeping." I pray you ponder that in your own involvement with the body of Christ, and that we will all do a better job of people-keeping and being concerned for the things God is most concerned about.

We had over 500 at Winter Camp this year. It just keeps growing!
I'm especially excited about this group. It's the UTA crew doing their "Mav Up" move. It was at our last Winter Camp that we announced we would start a ministry there, and this year they brought over 30 people! 
One of our UTA leaders sent me this exciting story: "After Winter Camp I was driving three non Christian guys from my core back home to Arlington. As we were leaving Sky Ranch I asked each one of them what they felt like they got out of the experience. All of them expressed to me that over the course of the weekend they had become more open to Christianity. One told me that he had been fascinated by the idea that science and faith could exist together, another told me that he had never felt more loved, and then another said that he was beginning to wonder if there really was a greater purpose for his life. After this I asked if each one of them would be interested in reading the Bible to find out more about Jesus Christ. The answer was a resounding yes!"

6 different worship teams pastored us over the course of the weekend. We are blessed with so many godly, talented leaders!
The Spirit ministered through Rikk in powerful ways. Rikk would speak for over an hour and students would be shocked that he was done. Some students even got on to me thinking I was telling Rikk to limit the length of his messages!
If you'd like to listen to Rikk's great series for free, click here!
Everyone had a blast throughout, playing games and sports and hanging out. I even heard that Rikk went on the zip line.
A few days after camp, Simi, one of our sweet UTD girls, was baptized. Morgan and Danni did such an amazing job of sharing the good news with her!
I wish you could have witnessed each of these things in person, but know that together, God is using us to make a difference. Thanks for all your support and help. I couldn't accomplish this ministry without so many of you backing me up!




Saturday, January 9, 2016

It's 2016!

UTD starts back this coming Monday (a week before any of our other campuses!) so our staff and students are gearing up this weekend for another semester as missionaries to the UT Dallas community.

Winter Camp
Our staff created a special music video to welcome student to camp. This was my frightening costume.
A week from now, I'll be in the middle of Winter Camp, our biggest event of the year. One of the axioms we use with our leaders is "Base hits, not home runs." We use it to remind ourselves to do important work that moves the mission forward consistently, whether it's impressive or not. Too many ministries and churches have been the victims of pastors grandstanding. I remember at the church I grew up at, our main worship leader wouldn't lead for crowds less than 1000 people--he only wanted to hit home runs. Jesus on the other hand, worked often with small groups of people who no one had heard of in places no one had heard of. So many of his recorded encounters are with people whose names we don't even know, which just reminds us again that these weren't celebrities or Caesars. He did small, "mustard seed" ministry.

BUT...when the bases are loaded, it's time to try to hit a homer! That's what Winter Camp is about for us. Our student leaders have spent months asking questions, loving their peers, preparing hearts, praying for people. And now we have an event where we are praying for God to show up in a big way, to do things that we simply CAN'T do. I ask you to join with us in praying that this weekend will be a pivot point in the lives of students who are ready for one. Pray for our speaker, Rikk Watts (a professor of New Testament from Regent College), that the Spirit will use him to help us fall in love with Jesus. I look forward to telling you what God does!

Several of our staff had the opportunity to take a class from Rikk last summer, and it was amazing!
Corefa Class

Tomorrow we'll have one of four Corefa Classes of the year, special sessions where we take extra time to teach and prepare our student leaders for ministry. Not to mention that going back to ministry basics is really good for our pastors! Tomorrow we will be teaching on two very important topics.

First, we'll be talking about confrontation and conflict. Jesus was always confronting people, and he was always gentle--gentle just looked pretty different from situation to situation! We know that from our own lives. Gentle when picking up a baby and gentle when spanking a five year old require different amounts of force. Gently restoring someone who is repenting of sin looks different from gently rebuking someone who refuses to acknowledge their sin. Gentle is about using the minimum amount of strength necessary--strength under control.

We'll be teaching our student leaders things like "Seek first to understand, and then to be understood" (thanks to Stephen Covey) and "You can always say more louder later, but you can't take back anything you've already said" (thanks to Ronnie Worsham). We'll show them the Johari Window and how to think about and talk about blind spots with themselves and each other. And we'll teach them how to mediate conflict between others.

The second part will be about ministering in the area of sexuality. We plan to have a question box so the student leaders can ask questions about things they or people in their spheres of influence are dealing with. Our staff will take some extended time to respond and use it as a teaching opportunity. I know this will be really valuable--some of our student leaders regularly hear things that many pastors and counselors never or only rarely deal with. Pray for God to give them a special gift of wisdom!

Intern Sermons

Lastly, I wanted to tell you briefly about the sermons the interns gave to the staff last month. Throughout the fall semester, the interns study through all four gospels in their "New Testament in Christian Ministry" class with Ronnie. At the end, they have to deliver a 20 minute testimonial sermon entitles "This is My Gospel" to the entire staff and anyone else they invite. This was SO ENCOURAGING! Each has a unique story. They come from different states, different countries, different religious backgrounds, different socioeconomic situations. But each of them has experienced Jesus threading their story into His, and has been radically changed in the process.


I wish you could have heard as each of them used the good news to minister back to us, but since most of you couldn't be there, I thought I'd share some highlights:

Danni, reflecting on what God is really saying to us in 2 Cor 12:9-10: "You've got weaknesses? So what? Isn't that why I'm here?" "We can just be us. And He can be our God."

April, reflecting on what God has taught her about Him being the Lord of her mind too: "To rejoice is a choice."

Nicki, reflecting on moving away from people-pleasing: "I can't please everyone, so all that's left is being my best for God."

Albert, in sharing about finding true friends who would speak the truth to him in love, described someone as "one of those friends who will stab you in the front." Ha!

JD shared a parable with us about staying in darkness, refusing to confess and come into the light, and thinking we can handle it ourselves. He said it was like a person going home and refusing to turn on the lights in his house because he thinks "I don't need help from the lights. I can do it myself!"

Nathan shared about the guys who reached out to him as a freshman and the ways they purposefully loved and led him. He said, "They may be things that are expected for corefas, but when I was a freshman, they meant the world to me." He also shared about the bittersweet moment when a young man he led to the Lord later in his college career said, "Nathan, I don't think I need you anymore to understand the Bible." And he didn't!

Carmen described humility as "being willing to be unappreciated, because I serve the most unappreciated Person in the world."

All 14 sermons were powerful, but some were so personal that they sort of defied me reducing them into sound bites. These are just a handful of the young men and women who are sharing the gospel on these campuses. Their stories are powerful in the Lord, and they are only just beginning to understand them and communicate them. It gives me great hope for the future!

Thanks for your prayers and for investing to put ministers on campus. You share in this fruit, and only God truly sees all the connections. I love having so many partners in this grand venture!

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