Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you!  This is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings for many people as we turn the calendar to 2017.  I pray that God would bless you richly in the new year, as He has generously blessed me in 2016.  If you're thinking about goals for the coming year, I encourage you to include this one: to experience and love Jesus Christ more deeply in the next year, allowing yourself to be changed by His presence in your life.

I'd like to share with you this testimony from Chiazo, one of the UNT girls I spent time with last year:

"Before college, I spent a vast majority of my time at church, from volunteering to mission trips. After graduating, I was nervous about what Christian community would look like now that I had to find it for myself. I prayed for a group of friends who cared about me. I was at the gym six weeks into my freshman year and while I was working out on the treadmill, something made me turn around (while running 80% speed) and I saw a banner for FOCUS. I visited that Friday night and stayed because people sought out His Word, ways to practice His teachings and made Christ-likeness a lifestyle- specifically, Autumn Priestley, a senior at the time I joined FOCUS. I constantly asked myself “why would someone who’s about to leave college want to spend time with me”? She spent time with me because of the lessons she learned through FOCUS. As I make my transition into the “real world” and becoming a teacher, I will remember to seek to understand then be understood when working with students, parents, and other teachers. I will look at my students and love them. I will consider their needs and provide for them, whether that means that I attend their sporting events or support them through tough times. I will show them who Jesus is through my teaching, patience, and discipline on and off the podium. It’s because of my involvement in FOCUS that I am able to know what it looks like to be a disciple in the “real world”."

Chiazo is about to begin student-teaching as a middle school choir director for the last semester of her degree.  I know that she will bring her passion for serving the Lord into her classroom and bless her students tremendously.  Please pray for her and all the students who are nearing the end of their degree programs and the start of their careers.

Over the Christmas break, while our students were away with their families, the FOCUS staff have read The Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning.  The following section from this book touched me deeply, and I hope it does the same for you:

"My futile attempts at self-improvement, the sadness that I am not yet perfect, the boasting about my victories in the vineyard, my sensitivity to criticism, and the lack of self-acceptance belie my profession of faith that Jesus is Lord - lip service from a shackled servant still in bondage to the insecurity that wears a thousand masks, still lacking the courage to risk all on him who is all, still thrashing about trying to fix myself, still struggling for that elusive achievement that will make me presentable to God... I resist the saving truth that I am lovable simply and solely because he loves me."

These words remind me that nothing I can say, do, or believe will change God's love toward me.  I can't, by hard work and discipline, earn any more of His love; I can't, through selfishness and wanton sin, dampen the strength of His affection for me.  God's perfect act of love was shown to us by Jesus on the cross; He waits only for us to accept it.  I pray that you would accept the love that God so graciously extends to you, and that you would be comforted by the knowledge that your own efforts won't change it.

As we enter the new year and prepare for the spring semester, please pray for the many exciting things coming up in the life of our FOCUS community:

- Pray for the Keep FOCUS Growing fundraiser.  We have raised over $40,000 and are still asking for your help to get to our goal of $55,000.  Please pray for us, and also please consider giving if you haven't already:

- Pray for Winter Camp.  This event is where many new students will catch the vision of what God is doing through FOCUS for the first time.  Pray that our students who haven't decided yet would choose to go, and pray that they would be prepared to experience God there.

- Pray for SMU.  We are planning our first outreach events at SMU this semester.  FOCUS has been blessed with a special opportunity to reach this campus, so please pray that we would connect with students who are ready to hear from God.

- Pray for leaders.  We are already thinking about which students will be ready to lead their peers next school year.  Please pray for wisdom for the FOCUS staff as we make decisions about whom to invite to SICM, our annual leadership training conference that prepares many of our future Corefas.

Thank you for your donations and prayers!  I wish you all the best in 2017.