Friday, November 07, 2003

Friday's Questions And Answers
Every Friday G-man from the YouthPastor.com listserv posts questions for us all to answer. I will post the ones I contribute to here each week. Here is your first installment of my answers:

OK. Here is this week's 7 questions. Week 21. On ministry, life, and the spiritual journey.

1. What is one book you would recommend to an upcoming youthworker?
Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry by Doug Fields

2. What is one devotional book you would recommend to students?
My Utmost For His Highest

3. Where did you go to school?
Central Visual and Performing Arts High School - St. Louis MO
Missouri Baptist College - Creve Coeur, MO
The Southern Baptist Seminary - Louisville, KY

4. What site or sites do you find helpful in your ministry?
youthspecialties.com, Egad, Jonathan's Resources, Worship Together, Kerusso Drama, xxxchurch.com

5. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the least; 10 being the greatest) where would you say your relationship with your spouse is? (If single where would you say your relationship with others is?)
8-9 Always room for improvement. Our love is deep. I need to work on being a better spiritual leader.

6. What do you envision for 2004?
That God will continue to bring new students to our ministry and that we would see souls saved.

7. What is God convicting in your life right now?
Being the best Jasper I can be (i.e., Husband, Son, Brother, Friend, Pastor). Being a better spiritual leader at home (see question 5). Needing to take a stand on things that really matter even if I stand alone. No compromise even if I am outnumbered in my views on theology at my church.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

WHAT A CRAZY 24 HOURS
So where to begin? Well I am very patriotic and support our armed forces completely but sometimes how things get done stump me. My sister-in-law, Aislinn is a 1st lieutenant in the army and just graduated from Officer Basic Course on October 25. She was told that she would be deployed to either Germany or Hawaii at the end of November. So she planned a two week trip to visit us in Maine. We were all excited and go to pick her up at the airport last night at 10:30 PM. When we find her at the luggage carousel she tells us that she had just called my mother-in-law to let her know she had arrived safely and her Mom told her that the Army had called and she had to report for active duty on Friday afternoon at one o'clock. LIKE FRIDAY AS IN TODAY!!! So we had to race home and find an early return flight to Kansas City so she could get everything together on Thursday to report for duty on Friday. We had to charge another plane ticket (one way $600) to get her back home. We decided that if she was getting deployed there is even an outside chance that she may not come back (okay we don't really want to think about that) so we needed to stay up all night and make the most of the 7 hours or so we would have together before she had to leave. We did stay up and it was fun. As you may recall I was up with the screaming father and son until 2AM on Wednesday morning so sleep has not be easy to get this week.
So we go to Denny's for breakfast at 5:00AM (and I got to see a guy snort cocaine --- not what I WANTED to witness) off of one of the tables there. Then we were off to the airport and put Aislinn back on a plane. We came home and went to sleep for a couple of hours (Kendra called out of work) and at about 10 o'clock an unknown female from the army called asking for Aislinn. We told her she was already on a plane home and the women commented that was too bad because they decided she wasn't needed right away and they called to tell her she could stay for awhile. We later found out only until Saturday because she now has to report by like 5PM on Sunday but at the time we were HACKED!
So I go to church because I am supposed to have a drama team practice at 2:30 or so. I so wanted just to go to sleep but we have only had one practice for a skit that we are performing next Thursday at TNT (our mid-week youth program). Well at about 2:45, the church secretary calls me and tells me that the kids in the skit called and said they couldn't be there because "something had come up." LET ME TELL YOU WHAT HAD COME UP FOR ME AND I WAS THERE! But I am not bitter.
So I hung out at church because we had no TNT this week because Michael W. Smith and Mercy Me were in concert and we were going to that instead. So the kids all got there and off we went. The concert was actually very nice and it was good to see all our friends in the Christian community in Southern Maine. I did feel old because a lot of MWS older stuff I knew every word to but the kids we took were CLUELESS. By the way, Smitty is still a great performer but lets talk about someone who is looking OLD these days! LOL! Then we went to McDonald's and back to the church. I had a great time bonding with the kids. But needless to say it has been a whirlwind couple of days !
We have our annual Leaf Raking day on Saturday. Should be fun. Then we have a small group dinner thing at one of the church member's house and then my friend Sonya will be here. What a busy life!
If anyone in cyberspace is actually reading these things, please keep Aislinn in your prayers. Her walk with the Lord has not been incredibly deep of late and we are concerned that she may be going into physical battle a little spiritually unready. We marked up her Bible a lot last night with passages that mean a lot to us. I hope they help her on the field. Please pray against Afghanistan or Iraq and for Hawaii in particular as my mother-in-law wants to take Kendra there to visit as a retirement gift to herself. Also, it is way more safe for obvious reasons. We are trusting in the Lord knowing that the safest place to be is where God wants you and under His protection!
Well, I am SO going to bed now! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

FINDING HOPE
The following is a newsletter article I wrote when I was on staff at First Baptist Church of Lemay just outside St. Louis, Missouri. The article was written the day of the funeral of one of my former students who had committed suicide.

I buried a kid today. As I sit here trying to record my thoughts, my heart is aching. Kim was the sunshine of life. She was a beautiful girl. Her outer beauty was apparent to everyone but those who knew her saw her inner beauty as well. She had a big, broad smile that was gentle and sweet. But something went wrong. She decided that life wasn't worth the sacrifice. She decided that the day to day struggles of making it work were too difficult. She took her own life.

As I held her mother in my arms and tried to comfort her, I knew there are no words for a time like this. There is no miracle healing balm that makes the wounded whole. My feelings are an odd mixture of disbelief, deep sorrow, and guilt. Inevitably I wonder if I could have been a better youth minister. What could I have done with this child whom God entrusted to my care? What could I have done that may have helped her to find a hope in the hopelessness? Could I have prayed for her more? Could I have challenged her more? Could I have made Jesus more real to her? Could I have done something to show her that 17 years are only the beginning of life and there are so many joys to come that completely outweigh the sorrows?

There are too many questions and not enough answers. I cling ever so tightly to my favorite passage of Scripture, Jeremiah 29:11. Here God promises me that there is a future and a hope. Right now both are hard to see. Somehow God will use Kim's death for His glory. Right now, I wish she was alive and He was using her life.

As much as I hurt, I cannot help but think of her mother. A Christian for only a few years, I remember when Pat "walked down the aisle" of the little inner city church where I was serving. Her mother, who had prayed for her for years, cried. My mother, who had also prayed for her salvation, cried. And as I led music that morning, I fought back tears of joy as well. Pat faced great opposition to her Christianity at work, but she always persevered. Yesterday she could not speak due to the overwhelming grief. I worry what will become of her. I pray diligently and with all the strength I can muster that God will give her peace. I pray that He will show her, before any of the rest of us, a future and a hope.

There is so little time to make a difference. I was Kim's youth pastor for three years and then God called me to another place of service. There is little I wouldn't do now to go back and spend all the one on one time I could, training and loving a hurting girl. I know I must look to the future. I know I must learn from this tragedy. With all that I am as a minister I have to instill in the hearts of young people that God does give hope. Our lives are never without a future. God loves us. As I look into the faces of the youth I have now, I want to see hope. I find myself wanting to hold them tightly and just yell, "Never let go of Jesus!"

Kim felt that ending her life would end pain. It has only increased it for those of us left behind. Together we can help one another find the hope we will all need. The Christian life is all about hope. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for. I want to dedicate my life to sharing and growing that hope in my own life as well as the lives of all those whom God makes me a watchman. Kim may not have seen that hope but I will do all I can to make sure that no one else in my life is ever blind to the hope of the living God.

I buried a kid today. I pray that with her I buried hopelessness. I pray that I will be resurrected a different man of God. I pray that I will be a lighthouse to guide others to hope.
Leaning On Jesus
Why is it that so often we try to do things in our own strength? It seems like time after time we do not reap the rewards of simply giving difficult things to God. I have just come from one of the times I have seen God move when I simply let Him.

Our youth ministry has been going through some difficulties lately. I am sure you have had seasons in ministry when you can not quite pinpoint what is not going as it should but you are aware that things just aren't "clicking". Our ministry is at a plateau and I have had difficulties pulling it out of its rut. So when it came time to plan our annual retreat, I was a little under enthused. I also was serving our congregation in a temporary music leader role that was requiring much of my time.

With these things put together, I dragged my feet on securing a theme and talent for the retreat. We were just two weeks from the retreat dates when the Lord spoke and I decided to have several different ministry friends come and build the theme over a two day period. I prayed and left the results in God's hands. I felt like there was nothing I could do to make the retreat work.

I was right. I could do nothing more but the things God did were incredible. In these two days I saw God work through the retreat in a powerful way. He used the four speakers to ignite a flame in our group. They challenged them to live their lives for such a time as this and I saw my group get excited about what God could do through them. I saw them participate in authentic worship. I saw church members open their homes with a wonderful sense of hospitality. This hospitality has built bridges between the youth and these church members. All it took was my obedience. As the leader of the group, I had to submit to our Heavenly Father's plan. He needed to hear me say take it all. I can do nothing more. After this admission, God became our feet, our arms and our voice. He used four men dedicated to Him to affect my group. I am happy that I stopped and turned it over to Him.
How Do YOU Measure Success
Lydia started attending our youth meetings about a year and a half ago. I can’t say just when it was but I know it was cold and dark outside. Our outside surroundings were a lot like her on the inside. Lydia is a beautiful young girl but in her eyes lies a profound sadness. They tell of her years of living a hard life.

I saw that pain at the first event she attended. She seemed unimpressed and I wondered if we would ever see her again. Then she became a regular mid-week attendee. She was at our meetings like clockwork and I remember noting that though she was always there, she still seemed a bit lethargic. To my surprise, she soon began coming to Sunday services and became a Christian.

I quickly learned how troubled her life was. She lived in a non-Christian home. Her father had alcoholic tendencies. Her mother was ill. Lydia had attempted suicide several times.

One day, soon after she became a church member, Lydia was sitting in my office with a friend, sobbing. She had attempted suicide again. This time she tried to stab herself in the stomach. Her father was being verbally abusive and it was only getting worse as his drinking became more intense. We talked for a couple of hours and then prayed together. I assured her I would be available whenever she needed me.

As time went on, Lydia became a central student in our ministry. She became one of the kids that you know will show up to every event. She was quite often early. Mostly, I believe, to get away from home. She was plagued with problems. Most of these are related to her family. My heart went out to her many times as we would discuss her trials.

Then one day she stopped by to talk to me. Things at home were different. Her father had stopped drinking. He was being kind. Her life was going better. We soon found out, however, that her father had stopped drinking because he was being heavily medicated. He had an inoperable tumor at the base of his skull. It would often disturb his nervous system and he would have violent seizures. He was a more loving father but he was very sick. Next, we found out that he was terminally ill. He had a degenerative bone disease. No one in the family was employed. The family was financial crippled.

The situation came to a head just as our summer activities were beginning for the year. Not only had her father's illness worsened; their home was going into foreclosure from debts owed to many different institutions. Yet, in the midst of these struggles, I saw Lydia "get it". In the middle of the pain she was enduring, God was making Lydia realize her role in the ministry of our group.

Lydia was a part of our drama team and she was performing in a particularly difficult skit. In it she played a young girl who was feeling that God was very far away from her when she needed him most. The character that she was portraying on the stage, was a mirror of her own life. In the skit the character's father was dying. In the skit the character's family did not know how they would meet their bills. An interpretive movement (or human video) followed the skit. In this movement as a song was sung about the need for closeness with Christ, Lydia rested in the arms of Jesus, being played by another youth. Her performance was remarkable. No one who saw the skit remained unmoved by its message.

Still, it was intense for its star. Lydia would often break down in tears after she left the stage. She realized the skit's impact but it was incredibly difficult for her to perform.

Then God moved. When our drama team performed the skit at youth camp, the audience was deeply touched. Many people came to Lydia that night to tell her what an excellent job she had done "acting". They were unaware of how art was imitating life in front of them. The next night Lydia shared with the camp the struggles her family was facing with her father's illness. It was difficult for her but she tentatively asked that the camp pray for her family's salvation and then returned to her seat.

That night she received a note from another camper. The letter told her how much the skit had moved her. She explained how she too, had a sick father. The writer however, had not yet shared this information with anyone. She went on to tell Lydia that after seeing the skit and hearing Lydia's story, she had found the courage to tell her youth group and have them pray with her.

At that moment Lydia was beginning to see herself as a minister of God's love. The girl with the quiet disposition and the sad eyes was being used by the Creator. She was taking her own pain and encouraging other
Christians to rely on Jesus for strength. She saw how God was using her difficulties for his glory.

We performed the skit several other times that summer. Usually Lydia would end up in tears but they were tears of resolve, not defeat. She saw how time and time again, God was using her to heal hurts in the hearts of His saints. Sometimes it was almost more than she could bear, but her ministry kept her going.

On days that I feel like a failure I think of Lydia. I think she is the ultimate example of success in youth ministry. When she first began attending our meetings she was bound for hell. In our earthly efforts God created a heavenly miracle and she found eternal life. She grew spiritually as her attendance continued. Then she realized a purpose for her life. She saw a path of ministry. She took hold of the opportunity set before her and in the midst of deep personal struggles she ministered to others.

Too often it seems that our churches want to measure success on numbers. If we all had a dollar for the times we have asked or been asked, "how many students are in your group," we could retire to a nice quiet condominium in a distant foreign land. Numbers are important. Numerical growth is the natural outcome of spiritual growth. The problem comes when increasing attendance drives our purpose. Success in ministry does not lie with numerical changes; it lies with changes of the heart. Success is much more than having a large group. Success is developing ministers. Success is investing time in a life and seeing that life change others. God measures success from the inside out. So should we.
Sometimes Kids Will Surprise You
Sometimes kids will surprise you. Just when you think that they are tired of you and wish anyone else would come to fill your shoes, they surprise you with an act of reassuring love.

I had a moment like that today. We have been rehearsing all week for this year's dinner theatre performance. The students have been giving 100% (okay more like 57% but we have been having a good time together). This is the beginning of a summer full of activity that follows one of the worst winters in my ministry. I am feeling disjointed as personal issues and increasing ministry demands are keeping me away from spending time with my students. I am at once looking forward to and dreading the three solid weeks of camp, mission trip and Bible School that will bind me to this group.

After rehearsal today some of the students just hung out with me. It was nice. I counseled one girl on grieving the death of her aunt. I showed a little extra affection to the one boy who has stuck it out in my Thursday discipleship group. I tried to cheer up a girl who is heartbroken that her best friend likes the same boy she does. I talked with a girl about her friend who got saved at camp last summer, who is not attending youth meetings anymore. I was feeling a certain sense of accomplishment as I did all of these things while typing the dinner theatre program.

Then it happened. One of the students came into the office and said he needed to talk to me in the fellowship hall. I knew immediately that something was up. As we started down the steps he pulled me away from the hallway that led to windows where I could see my house.

My first thought was, "oh no, they teepeed us!" I was certain that they didn't want to spoil that moment by me seeing it too early. Two students led me by the hands down the steps and to the fellowship hall door. They opened the door and led me into the dark meeting room. As we came around the corner, I noticed my wife being led into the room from another entrance in the same fashion. On the fellowship hall stage, the lights were dimly lit and there was a table with a lovely tablecloth, a candle, two place settings, and fancy chairs (stolen from the foyer of the church).

At the table stood one of our students with a dishtowel draped over his arm. "May I seat you Madame?" He asked my wife. He pulled out her seat and she sat down. He asked me the same and I sat as well. "Red or White?" He asked. My wife ordered white. I, still not knowing exactly what to expect ordered red.

Our "waiter" soon returned with a bowl of ice and two bottles of sparkling cider, chilling. As two of our girls filled our salad bowls, our waiter opened the cider and filled our glasses. My wife and I laughed in amazement of the pampering we were getting.

Dinner talk was a little awkward when every few moments someone would pop their head out of the kitchen door to see how we were reacting but it was worth it. We shared laughter and pride as the students brought us the main course, a hamburger for each of us from the nearest fast food restaurant. Mine without pickles, just the way I like it. The meal continued with canned peaches and concluded with hot apple pie ala mode.

I convinced my wife that we should dance in the soft light to the mellow praise and worship CD that was providing our background dinner music. As we started dancing the students filed into the rear of the fellowship hall and watched on with interest and smiling. When we finished our dance, I grabbed my wife and gave her a huge kiss as our students applauded from the shadows.

As we picked up the check for our meal, we found each scrumptious item listed on a well prepared napkin. Next to the total it said simply, "Happy Anniversary".
We had been married for a month and they remembered and showed us a little love.

As we walked away from our elegant dining experience, I could not help but be filled with pride. They are getting it. After a wonderful week of hard work and good times, they took time out to minister to me. They showed me a little of the Jesus we talk so much about. They were displaying love to a weary worker for the Lord. They refreshed me. I found myself wishing we could leave for camp right then, while their hearts were fresh from service and mine was refreshed by their love.

Unfortunately camp is still two weeks away, mission trip is four. However, when the going gets tough on those trips this year, I will do my best to remember this day. On this day that I saw Christ in the students whom are entrusted to me. On this day that I saw something in them that I want more in me. On this day their simple love and service renewed my heart. Sometimes they do surprise you. Those days may be few and far between but as I reflect on this near perfect day, I know they are worth the wait.
Spiritual Battles And Being Like Jesus
Somedays being in ministry does not seem rewarding. Let's admit it; ours is a thankless task. We work with adolescents. They are big jumbled mess of hormones, acne, and emotion. They are too young to fly solo but too old for training wheels. They are desperately trying to find their place in the world.

Fortunately for them God has given them us. We are the beacon of light in the darkness. We are the hope in the struggle. We are the miracle cure to all their problems provided by the almighty creator of the universe! Too bad they don't appreciate us. Too bad they don't realize the immense impact we are having on their lives. Too bad they don't understand that we have chosen to spend extra time with them to teach them and show them the way.
I suppose now would be a good time to turn of my special "saracastic font" and step back into reality.Lest we get puffed up let's remember why we do this job in the first place. 2 Corinthians 10:31 says whatever we do we should be doing it to glorify God. As much as they may help, we are not in this for the accolades involved. We are chosen by God to lead others.

I remember the spiritual warfare retreat I did with one youth group. The two-day adventure was going to be great. We would take a small band of weary kids to an out of the way cabin in the woods and would return them to the city as vibrant vessels of God fit for war. We had large group times planned. We had small groups assigned. We had powerful praise and worship. We had intense role playing where the students would actually battle Satan and his cronies with nothing but prayer and the word of God. The one thing we were not prepared for was the grumbling in the ranks. I had not planned that one student felt forced to go on the trip by his best friend when he would rather be on a date with his latest girlfriend. I had not prepared for the emotional outburst of a senior high student who yelled at me and then took off without telling anyone. I was equally unready for weary adult leaders who just wanted to pack everyone up, go home and resign from our ministry. All these things cycled out of control and I just stood, mouth agape, wondering what had happened to all those great plans we had.

Fortunately, a friend who had come along as a small group leader reminded me that we are always in the midst of spiritual warfare. I was reminded that these events were real life portrayals of the topic for the retreat. Yet, I questioned my value. I questioned my call. I even questioned my leadership abilities. I mean these thankless brats had gotten a two day trip away from home during winter break, five great meals, loving leadership and a sweatshirt to boot. They should be groveling at my feet thanking me for all I had done for them, right?

But suddenly I am reminded of another leader at another time. He came to work with thankless people. He had a small band of soldiers who he taught regularly. There were twelve. The same as the number of students that I had brought on the retreat. Those twelve guys watched Him heal the sick. They watched Him raise the dead. They watched Him feed multitudes with morsels. Still, in the crunch, they were thankless. They wanted to know who He loved most. They wanted to have earthly power. In a phrase, they just didn't "get it". At one point they deserted Him. They denied they ever knew Him. They walked away from all He had taught them.

Still, this leader did not give up. He was in the battle for the long haul. He was willing to trust them with the most important task and message the world has ever known. Physically, He was not there to witness their shining moments. He had returned home. Yet, that ragtag group of thankless men went on to take the time, love, and wisdom invested in them and set the world on fire. Apparently they had been listening. Evidently they took some of the three years of modeling and applied it.

Somedays in ministry I just want to pack my bags and give up. I wonder how often Jesus felt like that. I wonder how many times He grew frustrated with Peter being bullheaded or John and James wanting all the attention. Still, He loved them and continued to serve them even unto death.

There is a lot a minister can learn from the Master's example. Ours may be a thankless task but the eternal rewards of faithfulness is the best thanks we could ever earn.
I AM JUST A RAMBLING MAN
Okay, so don't expect every week to be like this but this BLOG thing is still new and I also have an easy week at work so ...
Last night I was up until 2:00AM with a college aged kid who used to be in our youth ministry. He is searching out his love life (or lack thereof) and has found that he has made some mistakes in this area and that some of them are haunting him now. I tried to impress upon him the need to have a genuine walk with Christ. He kept telling me how he was getting closer to God but then admitted to not having a consistent quiet time at all. I had to go in for the blunt kill and tell him his relationship with God could not possible be GREAT as he proclaimed if he was never spending time in God's Word and prayer. He was pretty caught.
He wants to begin pursuing a girl whom he says he really feels is "the one". Now he is only 18 so I try to remind him that there could be many others before "the one." Suddenly I feel as though I am speaking of Neo in the Matrix. But anyway, he agreed to not move on that relationship until he had two months solid of quiet times without missing one. The thing about this kid is I really care about him but sometimes feel like he is not being completely honest with me. Sometimes I am sure he is just telling me what he thinks I want to hear. That is sometimes the difficult part of being a Youth Pastor. Kids can't always be completely transparent. Or at least they feel like they can't.
So, at about 1:45 AM or so someone pulled into our driveway. It was the guy's dad out looking for him. He hadn't told his parents he'd be home late and apparently this was the third time this scenario had played out in two weeks. It got pretty ugly. I did my best to remain neutral in the doom that came when his dad showed up. I can see both sides. For the guy, he is 18 and employed. His parents can't continue to treat him like a little kid but I also understand that he is living at home rent free and needs to be responsible enough to let his parents know where he is and when he may be late getting home. His dad was still yelling at him about how he was going to yell at him when they got home as they went to their cars in our driveway. They guy is stopping by the office on his way home tonight. From what I hear he was pretty shaken up and quiet at work today. I am not completely sure what I am going to say to him but I guess it is nice to know he wants my support.
So that is the update on the last 24 hours. Kendra's sister Aislinn gets here at ten thirty tonight and it is WICKED cold! Sonya will be here around 9:00PM on Saturday. So we will have a funfilled weekend ahead of us! I'm looking forward to visits from home. I can't believe the NYWC is only 2 weeks away. That is AWESOME! Missouri here we come. I have been oddly homesick the past few weeks. I have not been missing people as much as the familiarity of being in my home town. I am looking forward to driving down the streets where I grew up. I better stop I am getting a little choked up just thinking about it!
TOP TEN BOOKS THAT HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE
Okay so these are sort of in order but not completely:
1. The Bible (DUH!)
2. The Hiding Place
3. My Utmost For His Highest
4. Ordinary People
5. Immanuel: Reflections On The Life Of Christ
6. Just Like Jesus
7. This Present Darkness
8. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry
9. Youth Ministry Management Tools
10. Finishing Strong

Again, these are not necessarily in order and I found it kind of hard to come up with ten. I love to read but I think it takes a lot to really affect me. The youth ministry books I listed are books that have really helped me in my ministry and I think thus, have changed my life.
Perfect Strength And Why I Am A Youth Pastor

Jasper Speaks:

I had my first youth pastor position in my home church in St. Louis, Missouri. I served there officially only a few months when I went away to seminary in Kentucky because, after all, isn't that what you are supposed to do after you graduate college? When I left I was serving in an inner-city church that had about 10 kids in the youth group. The church ran around 40 in Sunday School so proportionally it was very good.

Grace, the church where I served, is a unique place. It has been around for about 50 years or so and its Pastor is an ex-sharecropper from Arkansas. He and his wife minister in the nearly all black inner city despite their white, sometimes prejudiced, upbringing. They are gifted in showing love and making people think they can make it through anything. Most of the time, they are right. I learned much in the time I served the church but even though I now know God called me to seminary for that specific time, I was not so sure once I got there.

You see, in early March, I got one of those phone calls every youth pastor fears. Landon, one of the core kids in Grace's group, had been killed. Landon was not a punk kid. He was the product of a single family home. He struggled some in school. He was never wealthy. He never knew what "comfortable finances" were. He was a good kid and lived real life.

Unfortunately, just weeks after his mother moved to a better neighborhood, Landon returned to where they used to live to see friends. As he came out of a corner market, a fifteen-year old saw his gold necklace. He ordered Landon to give it to him. Landon resisted. After a brief struggle, Landon was laying on the street corner, with a hole in his chest from a gunshot and no necklace around his neck. He lived real life and he died real life.

When I got the call I knew I had to leave. I started home first thing the following morning. I knew the church, the youth group, and especially Landon's mother needed me. I was overwhelmed with grief. I had no idea what I was going to say or do to try and help. I felt a great sense of loss. I felt like I had abandoned Landon and the other youth when they really need me. As I drove through Indiana, my eyes were full of tears. I would sob for awhile and then my throat would tighten and tears would silently fall. How would I find the strength to make it through the next week?

Then, through my little stereo sitting next to me (my car had no cassette player) I began to listen a little more closely to a tape of favorite music I had made several weeks before. I heard Steven Curtis Chapman singing a song I knew very well. As I tried to drive through my tears, I found myself singing along and claiming the song as a Word from God. I sang, "His strength is perfect, when our strength is gone, He'll carry us when we can't carry on. Raised in his power, the weak become strong. His strength is perfect. His strength is perfect." I continued to cry, yet now I had a resolve like I had not had before. I was going to make it through this battle. However, I was not going to do it in my own strength. Steven's song reminded me that there is a higher strength that works best when I can't do anything.

I went through that week with that thought in mind. My heart was very heavy. I had no words of comfort that could heal the broken hearts around me. I did have the privilege of speaking at Landon's funeral. As I looked out at the crowd before me, I saw Joyce, Landon's mom. There was heartbreak in her eyes but a smile on her face. We knew Landon knew Christ and in this knowledge we found hope. I could sense that her strength, like my own, was sapped. Still, God's strength was perfect. He carried us through a time when we just could not carry on.

I ended up coming home after that semester of seminary. I returned to Grace to minister to the youth that had come to mean so much to me. I stayed there two and a half more years before moving on to my next church. I learned a valuable lesson when Landon died. It is one I have taken with me the many times I have gotten the type of phone call every person fears. God's strength is perfect. His strength does not make the difficulties disappear but He does carry us through them.

If I try hard enough, I can still see Landon's funny grin. It is a little toothless from a mishap at school when he was just a kid. I miss that smile. If I had my way, Landon would be graduated from college right now. He would be about 27 years old. I would love to be able to envision him with a family and great job. However, as I find is often the case, God had another plan. You see there are two things I know without a doubt. Landon's Heavenly promotion helped to work out God's plan in many lives and God's perfect strength carried us through the hard times. It is still carrying us today. Just this past February Landon's Mother joined him in Heaven. This time I couldn't get back home to be with those who loved her. I drew on the lesson God taught me through Landon. God's strength is perfect when our strength is gone. I praise God that He carries us when we can't carry on. Being one who has been raised in His power, I will tell you the weak do become strong. Oh yes, His strength is perfect. His strength is perfect.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Tuesday's First Ramble
So here I am at the office and thought I would add some of my thoughts onto here. It has already been a boring day. We don't have TNT this week so I don't have a message to prepare. I am kind of working on next week's already but it is hard to see a need for a rush. John, the AP, has hives and is not in today and Ron, the Senior, is out running errands so here I am alone!
Okay, let me talk about Maine for a moment. It can be SO frustrating. We just got a fax machine for the office (welcome to 1989, right?). The phone company came by yesterday to install the line we need for it and left without doing anything because they had no clue! HELLO? YOU ARE THE PHONE COMPANY! This state really bites! I long to be back in civilization. God has me here right now but I HATE Maine. I am SO trapped. Even my keychain is a picture of a bunch of lobsters in a trap and it says "Trapped In Maine". Oh well!
My sister-in-law comes in town tomorrow. Herr name is Aislinn and she just finished her officer's basic course for the army. She doesn'treally know where she is going to be stationed but knows that she will ship out probably at the end of the month. So she is coming to spend a couple of weeks here with us. She wins the prize for most Maine visits with five after this trip. It will be nice and I think it will be especially good for Kendra.
My dear old friend Sonya will be here this weekend as well. She will be coming in on Saturday afternoon. I can't wait to see her! I have not seen her since our wedding I don't think and then of course we did not do much quality time. She is one of my oldest Christian friends. We have known each other like 18 years or something like that. I am SO OLD!!! It will be great having her here.
My quiet time today was in the First chapter of 2 Corinthians. Mostly I remember it talking about God giving us comfort. That is a great concept. I am very glad that God loves us enough to give us His comfort. My article for the church newsletter this month was kind of about that. I have gotten some positive response back from it. I love to write and just need to take the time to do it more often. I suppose that could classify as a hobby! I often think I have no hobbies but I love writing and movies. So there. That is my answer about hobbies!
Well I guess I better move along to do more work here today. Only 15 more days until we leave for Missouri and the National Youth Worker's Convention. I know it will be somewhat a downer because of Mike Yaconelli's death last week but I still look forward to the worship and the retreat and BEING HOME! WOO-HOO!

Monday, November 03, 2003

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
Okay I feel a little guilty about the ramblings that are bad about my church so here is a longer ramble about the good stuff.

A RECAP OF BLESSINGS
Here is a recap of the blessings God has given us through HCBC since we arrived on July 3, 2000. Most of the time I love Hollis Center Baptist Church. It is a Godly, caring congregation where I am blessed to be one of three pastors. Three and a half years ago, the church called my wife and I to be the first Youth pastors they have ever had. The Senior and Associate Pastors have been much more than supportive of me. They compliment me from the pulpit, stand behind my decisions and have become father/mentor figures to me in the faith. (I also had a WONDERFUL relationship with my last SP and I know that I am blessed for that).

Before our arrival the church found us a nice apartment, paid the moving expenses and our first month's rent and security deposit. They offer me four weeks of vacation a year (of which I took three last year and am busier this year and may only take 1.5 but EVERYONE nags me about taking more time off so I can be refreshed). After seven years of service I am offered an 18 month sabbatical. They also encourage any kind of developmental meetings I see the need to attend.

When we got here they pounded us with non perishables and "meated" us with so much meat we could put nothing else in the freezer. We didn't have to buy anything but liquid products at the grocery store for three months!

On our third week here Kendra was in a car accident that totaled our only vehicle (Jasper's beloved Eagle Vision TSI). That Sunday the needwas presented in church and by 1PM that afternoon we had a car given to us.

It was the Hooptie of our dreams and Jasper was a madman behind its wheels.
With the insurance money from the Eagle we were able to purchase a van that we use frequently for youth outings. In November of our first year, we had a problem requiring $700 to repair. It happened right at Christmas time. We scraped the money together and got the van fixed. One night we came home and found two fifty dollar bills in a card on the wreath on our door. The card insisted we spend the money ONLY on Christmas presents for each other and was anonymous. The following Sunday at church I was given an envelope. When I got home in it was a note from the board of elders saying they all chipped in and gave us the $700 as a gift. This was above and beyond my Christmas bonus (my first ever in ministry).

Our first mission trip here was in July 2001. Jasper took 10 students and two leaders out of the country! (okay it was to New Brunswick, Canada but it was his first international trip) We painted a lot and bonded even more. It was really this trip and this time away with the students that became a turning point in the ministry here. The kids began to accept us and we felt like we had begun to establish deep relationships with them. IT ROCKED! However on that trip, I had an accident in a borrowed van. The damage was $1700. No one yelled. No one threatened to fire me. The board voted unanimously to pay for all the repairs. No questions asked. A blessing both to me and to the family who so graciously gave us their vehicle. It is running fine.

Another Christmas came and with it came another Christmas bonus!

In April 2002, when Kendra's father passed away somewhat suddenly, we had to travel at the spur of the moment to Missouri from Maine. This was not a cost we saw coming. When we returned, the church had taken a collection that completely paid our airfare and expenses. No questions asked.

Our apartment was not working out. Even after the first year we were frustrated with living there but had no other real options. We had a landlord who is kind of a modern Jekyl and Hyde and over charged us for EVERYTHING. A family in the church heard about some of our struggles there and offered to let us move into the brand new 1300 square foot apartment they were building over their garage. Not only are they former youth leaders with a pool and a black top basketball court in their backyard which have been open to the youth group whenever we want it, they are wonderful people whom we have wanted to get to know better since we came here. Everything in the apartment is brand new. They even let us choose the countertops, carpet and appliances. We moved here in June of 2002 and now pay $170 a month less in rent. God bless Steve and Lori!

Our church is not full of rich people. We are a medium sized working class congregation. The people here just give from their hearts and sees that the Lord's blessing comes when they do that.

Boundless love and support have been shown to us in these nearly four years. Not every day has been perfect. I have had struggles with teens, parents, youth workers and other church members but always God has worked out the problems with little long term issues. There are somethings I have still to work out as far as my theology versus the theology of my church. Still I do see Jesus in these people!

Recently, when we thought God may be calling us away from here, the leaders of the church embraced us and encouraged us to follow God's leading. They did not wish for us to go but they were eager for us to see what God's plan was for us. We ended up staying. We were welcomed with enthusiasm and love as if nothing had happened.

Another free car became ours a couple of months ago. Another church member knew the Hooptie had gone to Hooptie Heaven and generously gave us their second vehicle when they got a new one! WOW!

Not everything the church has done for us is listed here. That would take up WAY TOO MUCH time. Our church is not perfect as I have stated before, Utopia does not exist. It ain't perfect, but I see Jesus in this congregation EVERYDAY.

The first three and a half years have been exciting. We have flown more than ever before and have become quite good at it! We do miss family, friends and food from the Midwest here we are. The safest place to be is in God's place, under His protection.
FIRST REAL ENTRY
Okay, so now I know this works. Here we go. An online diary can be a scary thing. But here goes. As you may know I am the Youth Pastor at a church in Maine. I love the kids that I work with. My church is a good place. I believe that the people are following Christ and that they love Him. Still there are days I feel like they are missiong out on so much because of their strict fundamental beliefs. Still, I see God at work. Our church is discipleship driven. We do a pretty good job at growing Christians but evangelism has never been on the front burner. That may have something to do with the fundamentalist views of the leadership. Calvinism is truly believed. Sometimes in a hyper sense. But in spite of that we have seen a new salvation in the past two weeks in Youth Ministry. A kid I had been praying for came to know Christ at the Word of Life Superbowl. Superbowl in this sense has NOTHING to do with football but is an all night traveling lock-in. This was actually the first of my four Superbowls that I actually enjoyed. Anyway, I am excited that this kid got saved and am praying that God will help us grow him up in the faith.