Friday, January 8, 2016

Christmas Blessings and New Beginnings

Happy New Year and welcome to 2016!  I hope each one of you enjoyed a special holiday season and took the time to reflect on the greatest Christmas gift any of us has received, namely the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord.

December was a time to celebrate many things:  Christmas, the close of the fall semester, and the blessing of family and community.  Let me share with you how I and the FOCUS community celebrated.

Our Denton Christmas Party
 Just before the chaos of final exams, our students gathered together to celebrate Christmas.  This was a time of laughter as our Cores performed silly skits to entertain their peers.  The skits had to incorporate a Christmas song and reflect the unique character of our Denton campuses.  My favorite was the performance put on by Darby, Katie, and Hanna's Core.  Their group re-wrote Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" into "All I Want for Christmas is the Union."  They sang about the new UNT Union that recently opened, and each of the girls dressed in a different costume to represent some aspect of the new building.  Everyone could see that those young women had not only school spirit but a lot of love for each other.  Those skits of course are not meant only for entertainment; we strategically ask our Cores to do something that requires planning, practice, and often a little embarrassment because it helps strengthen the bonds of friendship within each group.

After the silliness of our skits, the party took a more reflective tone.  I read many biblical passages aloud to our students and asked them to ponder the magnificent reality of Christmas.  I read from the Old Testament prophets who looked forward to the glorious coming Messiah and the universal victory of God's kingdom, and I read from the Gospels as they told the story of a baby born to an unwed teenager, surrounded by livestock in a stall.  The meaning of Christmas is tremendous: God has come to earth.  But the visible reality of Christmas is mundane: a Jewish child born into a common family while sheep slept under the watchful care of shepherds nearby.  I encourage you to ponder that paradox of Christmas and these words, spoken by Simeon over the infant Jesus: "For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.  This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."

From left: Sarah K, Danielle, Miriam, and Debbie

After Christmas, while our students were still away relaxing with family and enjoying the break from school, the FOCUS staff and interns gathered together for a retreat.  We drove four hours to a remote bit of the Texas hill country and stayed in two huge rental houses (there were 30 of us on this trip).  For four days we learned, prayed, and spent much time preparing for the upcoming semester and the many exciting things we have planned.  We also had plenty of time to play together, enjoy each other's company, and strengthen the tight bonds of friendship that allow us as a staff to work together effectively.  As you look at these funny pictures, please pray for this team.  I am privileged to work with some of the most talented, intelligent, self-sacrificing and faithful people in the world.  Pray that God would keep us wholeheartedly committed to Him and that He would use us to bless college students at all of our campuses.

From left: Sirak, Sarah, and me
This is me with my fellow Denton pastor, Cody.  Please pray for the McCartys, as the family home where Cody celebrated Christmas was completely destroyed by the December 26 tornadoes.
From left: Garrett, Tana, and April (with Debbie in the background)

Finally, I am thrilled to tell you that our annual Winter Camp is quickly approaching!  Students from all the FOCUS campuses will gather from January 15-18 at Sky Ranch to worship, learn, and play together.  Please pray that camp will be a catalytic moment in the spiritual lives of these students.  Pray also for students who haven't yet decided to attend; sometimes it's the students who decide at the last minute who have the most meaningful camp experience.

If you would like to come to any part of Winter Camp, please let me know.  Many of our alumni and supporters come on Saturday to hear the lessons and meet the students they support.  I would be delighted to see you there.

Thank you for the prayers and support that enable me to keep making disciples on our campuses!