Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jasper Speaks:
Merry Christmas. Remember without the cross the stable is just a barn. Christ came to be our redemption. The greatest moment in history began with a child in a manger and continued through His sacrifice on the cross and will be revealed in the day of the LORD. May your Christmas be one in which Christ the Lord is exatled.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

 
One of Us

Jasper Speaks:

I love living with a four year old. He helps me look at things through a child’s eye. Everything is new and met with wide eyed wonder. It makes the holiday season even more fun. It is so neat to see Jackson get excited when he sees Christmas lights, when we put up the tree, and when we sing Christmas songs. In the eyes of a child you get to live it all over again for the first time.

All year long Jackson asks if it is Christmas yet. That gets me thinking about what my life would be like if I lived with the anxious expectation and constant reminder that Christmas is coming. I think about the biblical example of Anna and Simeon. They waited their whole lives for that first Christmas. How excited they must have been to see Jesus!

We don’t have to wait our whole lives to see Jesus. He has come. God Himself came to Earth and lived as one of us. I never can get past the idea that the creator of the universe lowered himself in that way. He came to be one of us. He didn’t have to. He could have stayed in Heaven and continued to require sacrifices for our sins. Instead, He chose to be the final sacrifice.

When I really sit and contemplate Christmas it doesn’t take me long to start thinking about Easter. That small baby, who we will celebrate in a few weeks, would go on to give His life up so that we could have life forever. The cross casts a shadow over the manger.

I want to be like Jackson. I want it to always be in my thoughts, throughout the whole year, that God became Emmanuel. He lived like me so that I could live eternally. That is a fact I need not to neglect all throughout the year. He became one of us. Amazing. I am glad that I can be reminded of what an incredible thing Christmas is through the eyes of a child.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

From Fuzzy To Focused


Jasper Speaks:
This is a research paper for my Foundations of Education class at Midwestern:  I think there is some really good truth here that might help you in focusing your ministry.


From Fuzzy to Focused:
Developing a Process for Discipleship in Student Ministry


INTRODUCTION
Student ministry has evolved in the past three decades. A major movement from program based models to discipleship based models has changed the way ministries look at how they define success in reaching and discipling young people.  In response to statistics saying as many as 64%-94% of teenagers are leaving the church when they graduate high school[1], student ministries are taking a sharp turn toward more Bible based ministry and less programs in an attempt to develop life transformation among this generation. The days of over packed schedules heavy on entertainment and light on substance are fading away in favor of programs focused on creating lifelong, fully devoted, followers of Christ. Effective student ministries cast visions strongly, evaluate regularly and implement the change needed to develop lifelong disciples for Christ.
Much has been written that would persuade those ministering to teens that there can be a packaged formula to help them reach the goal of creating disciples for Christ. Mega Church models have been applied in churches of varying sizes all over the United States. Student Pastors and volunteer youth leaders have been inundated with the latest fads and trends all with the promise of changing this generation. A clear return to Biblical principles and a focus on the spiritual health of a church’s ministry however, is the first step to seeing true transformation occur.
A New Scorecard
For years ministries have looked at attendance and giving as the primary ways to evaluate the effectiveness of their work for the Lord. These methods of grading seem short sighted. These evaluative methods only deal with the physical aspects of growth and not what the Holy Spirit is doing in the lives of people. In their book, Transformational Church, Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Ranier, encourage ministries to look to a new way of evaluating their effectiveness. A new measure of effectiveness is suggested giving more credence on how well ministries are making disciples. Where churches once focused on numbers, Stetzer and Rainer suggest that the new scorecard needs to focus on disciples. [2]  The goal of our ministries is not focus on numerical and financial growth but to develop genuine Christ followers.
            These same principles should be applied to student ministry. The measure of the health of a student ministry must be held to the standard of how well students grow in their relationship with Christ. Rather than just focusing on tangible results, student ministries need to look to ways to measure the intangible as well. No longer can a list of those who attend programs be an accurate view of the health of a ministry. Effective student ministries evaluate the quality of their discipleship to understand where strengths and weaknesses lie. Attendance is important, growth is a natural barometer of a healthy student ministry, but effective student ministries implement ways to measure things like the quality of worship, the building of community, the role of missions, and the rate of commitment within its students to accurately gauge the health of the student ministry.
            A discipleship plan with the end result in mind is key to developing students. Student ministries must begin to ask, “What do we want our students to look like spiritually after they leave our ministry?” Evaluation of the programs they have in place to make sure they are focusing the proper time and energy into those which are most beneficial to the discipleship plan is also important.
            Not only are “experts” recommending these changes, students desire more discipleship substance in the ministries in which they are involved. When Group magazine recently polled churched students across America, deeper connections, orthodoxy, and a return to systematic Bible studies were high on the list of the things that help them to grow in Christ. Programs did not make the list of helpful resources. In fact students indicated the number one distraction from their faith was busyness and hyper-activity.[3] Students are calling out for a change in how ministries disciple and if lifelong growth is an aim, the church’s response needs to be one of well thought out and effective alteration.
Where To Begin
            Ministries that produce make a plan of discipleship. These ministries make their goals clear and easily maneuverable. In order to begin this plan some hard choices need to be made. A comprehensive evaluation of current programs will lead to clarity of mind in structuring a vital discipleship model. As they evaluate themselves, student ministries should decide what the desired outcome should look like when accomplished. Ministries will benefit from deciding the goal before structuring how to achieve it.  It would profit ministries to decide what attributes they hope graduating students possess then discuss what programs can best foster those attributes.
Effective discipleship ministries are evaluative in nature. These ministries are not afraid to look at themselves and make changes accordingly. Asking questions such as, “What events are being kept because of tradition?’ and “What are we doing because we are expected to do it?” are crucial to examining where the ministry can best begin to declutter and better disciple students. Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton explain it this way, “Most of our student ministries are known for camps, retreats, programs, choir tours, ski-trips, fund-raisers, and all-nighters. And few are known for the sweet aroma of Christ in the lives of teenagers.”[4]  Effective student ministries are willing to move away from routine programs and toward intentional discipleship. Focusing on the end outcome will help to make the process of this movement clear.
Making A Clear path through the process
            After the goal of the discipleship process has been determined, effective ministries begin to decide what is most important to making that goal a reality. Discipleship will never be outdated and the Bible is the seedbed of creating a vital process. Methods may change but there are certain principles that effective student ministries embrace that transcend those methods. When we understand that the process is meant to help students move from point to point on their faith journey, planning how to execute the process becomes simpler.[5] Effective student ministries understand that in order to reach the goal, students and leaders need to understand the process that leads to that goal. A successful discussion of the process keeps effective discipleship of students as its aim, the Bible at its center and lifelong disciples as its goal.
            Identifying the movement involved in the discipleship process is vital. Effective student ministries realize that the process begins with a clear entry point where the spiritual water is shallow and ends where the waters are deep. Many student ministries find it helpful to produce an easy to remember mission statement that reminds students and leaders what the process is. Geiger and Borton refer to this as “sequential programming”. This type of programming moves students through the process of discipleship in small, bite size steps that build on one another.[6] Starting with a program that is nonthreatening and evangelistic in purpose, moving to intentional discipleship methods, and ending in service is an effective sequential model. It is vital that the student ministry makes it clear that there is a next step in the spiritual growth of a student and shows them the way to make it to that step.
            Starting with evangelism is key. A student cannot grow spiritually without a relationship with Christ. An open and nonthreatening entry point is the best way to offer an evangelistic element in programming. Many student ministries use their mid-week programs to offer an open door to pre-Christians. At this point, follow up becomes important. Group Magazine’s interview with students found that a caring and investing ministry was highly desirable among young people.[7] Today’s students live in a world that is filled with ways to disconnect from real relationships. In this day of cell phones, internet based social media, and iPods, students desire real relationships with people who care. Responding to a student’s visit helps him or her feel that the student ministry cares about them and this feeling is often the first step towards understanding that Christ cares as well.
When students become Christians, the discipleship process truly begins. Student ministries need only to return to God’s Word for the model that needs to be implemented for effective discipleship. Geiger and Borton suggest Acts 2:42-44 stressing the importance in the discipleship process of being accepted into the community of believers, hearing solid biblical teaching, praying together with other Christians, and investing in one another.[8] Once a student has accepted Christ it is crucial that student ministries make clear how they continue the process of growth. A new believer will need to see the path clearly knowing what programs and aspects of the student ministry will best help him or her grow. Participation in a small group and regular church attendance are vital.
            Effective student ministries realize that a desire to serve will become evident as the student continues in the growth process. Teaching students that their lives should be lived on mission is important.[9] Students who are taught that everyday the Lord presents them with opportunities to serve continue to grow and become reproducing Christ followers. Students also need to become aware of formal mission opportunities and see how their discipleship path makes mission the next logical step. As students who have become Christians grow through becoming part of the body they will continue to grow when they see the next step along the journey is to serve. Service opportunities help students to see that their faith is something that is active and God can use them to change lives. This knowledge is crucial to the goal of developing life long Christ followers.
             THE IMPORTANCE OF ALIGNMENT IN THE PROCESS
          Once the goal of the process is identified and the path of discipleship is laid out, effective student ministries begin the process of aligning staff and students around the process. Alignment is the process of building unity and support of the process. Many student ministries have not recruited leaders with this process in mind. Often in student ministries workers are recruited for their ability to breathe and willingness to put up with teenagers. When leaders are recruited for process driven ministries a need is present to find those who will invest in students with the process as a priority. A clear process can become your greatest recruiting tool.[10] Quality leaders will be impressed that there is a process and will be committed to seeing the process through.
Holding leaders accountable is also important. A regular review of your leadership team will benefit the process. Effective student ministries regularly check the health of the leadership team. A consistent evaluation of leadership helps to guarantee alignment with the process and can intervene where there may be questions about the process. Accountability is also important to the development of new programs and the
evaluation of existing ones. Ministries who ask hard questions about their programs’ place in the process are more likely to remain effective in meeting the end goal.[11]
BRINGING THE PROCESS INTO FOCUS
            Over scheduling can impede the discipleship process. Ministries striving to develop lifelong Christ followers frequently review their programs and refine them to
assure that these programs are moving the ministry along the process in an effective way. Many times focus comes with some pain. When ministry is re-focused sometimes much loved programs are removed because they do not meet the vision of the discipleship process. The old program model of student ministry created an atmosphere of big events being key to discipleship. Students were encouraged to participate in large events so that they might be inspired to grow in their relationship with Christ.[12] A process driven ministry realizes that discipleship is progression of growth. Time invested on in ongoing manner is much more valued over one stop fix ups.
            Geiger and Borton remind us that bringing a ministry into focus is not an easy one time task. There is rigor required but the authors argue the work is worth the time. They explain it this way:
                        “Fully committing to your discipleship process requires time and
            investment. Unlike events, the development of the essential programs in your
            student ministry process is not a one-time investment. When time is invested
            in the steps that facilitate movement, the results are ongoing. Energy that would
            be spent planning extra activities is poured into what is essential. Programs are
            creatively developed. Steps between programs are simplified. Leaders are trained.
            None of this is possible when there is the constant pressure to perform and
            produce the next big event.”[13]

            Creating focus will aid the process by helping students and leaders to see in a simple way what programs exist to move from one point in the process to the next. It will help them to understand what programs lie along each point in the process. This will enable both students and leaders to understand what type of program is best for a person
to invest in where they are along the process.

                    A CLEAR PLAN FOR DISCIPLESHIP TEACHING
At the heart of discipleship is the teaching of God’s Word. It is important that the primary leader of the student ministry have a clear plan in mind when deciding what the ministry will teach in order to develop lifelong Christ followers. A haphazard method of teaching that is not intentional will destroy the focus of the discipleship process. It is vital that the ministry understand what essential truths that will develop disciples are. The teaching ministry of the ministry is at the center of moving towards a more focused plan of action.
To develop a teaching program that permeates a ministry’s process, leaders must commit to letting content drive the context. Relevance is important in successful process oriented ministries but it should never supersede the message ministries want students to live.[14] As a ministry evaluates its methods it must always evaluate what is being taught. When the content of teaching is biblically based and exigent, students will be challenged to live out those teachings. From entry point events to programs with students on mission, the content is the basis that drives discipleship.
Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall have identified seven principles every student should know when they graduate: Authentic Faith, Spiritual Disciplines, Moral Boundaries, Healthy Friendships, Wise Choices, Ultimate Authority and Others First.[15]
Each of these principles is grounded in Scripture. The principles can help to guide the process of effective discipleship by reinforcing Truth in the context of a student’s life. Identifying a set of principles that the leaders in a student ministry can build the discipleship process around will provide the much needed content for the context of the process.
            Stanley and Hall suggest that each checkpoint be returned to at least once a year. The checkpoints can be put into a calendar year and leave room for Christmas and Thanksgiving, five “free” weeks to make way for schedule conflicts that arise and most importantly ten weeks devoted to two Bible book studies a year, choosing books that have one of the seven checkpoints as a central theme.[16] Utilizing a plan such as this insures an organization to teaching and provides a framework for discipleship.
            Such a plan can be utilized as a theme at your yearly camp experience, the devotional material produced for mission endeavors and weekend discipleship retreats.
Having a plan of teaching helps adult leaders see the teaching aspect of the discipleship process more accurately. When a consistent teaching plan is used in Sunday School,
small group and large group teaching sessions it helps guide the discipleship process a ministry has developed. Teachers will know what to teach and what is next and this will equip them to spend time in study while freeing time to build relationships with students. Using a thought out teaching plan in multiple facets of ministry will make the ministry stronger.
CONCLUSION
            In order to change the startling retention statistics regarding young adults and the church, effective ministries will need to implement a process with a clear vision and focus.  Rather than basing success solely on attendance, effective student ministries are beginning to evaluate the growth in a student’s commitment. The evaluative process becomes clearer when a ministry has a plan for discipleship that is clear and easily maneuverable. This discipleship plan is successful when based in the content of Scripture and placed in the context of relevant ministry. This generation of students has indicated that they desire to be challenged and cared for personally. It is the responsibility of Christian student ministries to fulfill that desire and preserve the cause of Christ for future generations as well.
           









Bibliography

Dean, Kenda Creasy, Chap Clark, and Dave Rahn. Starting Right. Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2001.

Geiger, Eric, and Jeff Borton. Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009.

Lawrence, Rick. “Going Super Deep with Teenagers.” Group Magazine, November/December 2010/Volume 37.

Sherman, Rob. “Up to 94% of Teens Leave Church After High School.” Chicagonow.com. http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/godless-in-chicago/2009/08/up-to-94-of-christian-teens-leave-the-church-after-high-school.html (accessed October 22, 2010).

Stanley, Andy, and Stuart Hall. The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders. West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001.

Stetzer, Ed, and Thom S. Rainer. Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations. Nashville: B&H Books, 2010.























[1] Rob Sherman, “Up to 94% of Teens Leave Church After High School,” Chicagonow.com, http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/godless-in-chicago/2009/08/up-to-94-of-christian-teens-leave-the-church-after-high-school.html (accessed October 22, 2010).
[2] Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer, Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations (Nashville: B&H Books, 2010), 31.

[3] Rick Lawrence, “Going Super Deep with Teenagers,” Group Magazine, November/December 
2010/Volume 37, 40-41

[4] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 9.

[5] Kenda Creasy Dean, Chap Clark and Dave Rahn, Starting Right (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2001), 390.

[6] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 68-69

[7] Rick Lawrence, “Going Super Deep with Teenagers,” Group Magazine, November/December 2010/Volume 37, 40-41

[8] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 78

[9] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 79

[10] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 90-92

[11] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 104

[12] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 114

[13] Eric Geiger and Jeff Borton, Simple Student Ministry: A Clear Process for Strategic Youth Discipleship (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Books, 2009), 121

[14] Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders (West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001), 8.

[15] Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders (West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001), 10-12.

[16] Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints for Youth Leaders (West Monroe: Howard Books, 2001), 216-217.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Cartoon Speaks:


You know you want to come!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Jasper Speaks:

Real Life Small Groups Rock!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jasper Speaks:

Here is this week's Student Ministry Video Update:

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Must Read


Jasper Speaks:

An absolute MUST READ for anyone who works with or loves teens. So sad! http://tinyurl.com/2effacd


I was literally in tears after I read this. How awful! We have got to stop this! As someone who has dedicated my life to loving students this breaks my heart in ways I cannot express. Having buried students who have chosen to end their lives, my heart aches for the loved ones left behind. Praying for these families. Some of the things I read here are unimaginable. So sad. How are we going to stop this? What is the church's answer? Please leave comments. Let's dialogue about this heartbreaking issue. We are beyond ignoring this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Bit Of A Commercial

Jasper Speaks:

I love Logos Software. It has changed both my personal Bible study and my sermon prep. It is easy to use and it really does add so much to what I do. I use for my seminary studies as well. They are launching a full Mac version very soon. If you are a PC or a Mac person either way you need to look into getting this software. You don't have to be in ministry to reap it's benefits. It is just a great source of information. Below is a link to learn more about the Mac edition:
Logos Bible Software is giving away thousands of dollars of prizes to celebrate the launch of Logos Bible Software 4 Mac on October 1. Prizes include an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPod Touch, and more than 100 other prizes!
They’re also having a special limited-time sale on their Mac and PC base packages and upgrades. Check it out!




And just for fun, here is this week's SMU video update. You probably want to watch it all the way to the end!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Guest Speaker

Jasper Speaks
:

I have been trying to work on getting back into mainstream pop culture. I think it is important to stay relevant. I thought I would write about that this week but came across this article on youthministry360 and it says it well. So, I am off to listen to some Taio Cruz, Uncle Kracker and Paramore while catching up on last night's Glee and buying tickets to The A List or something like that at least.

Click HERE for the article.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Importance of Rest


Jasper Speaks:

My family and I just returned from a week long vacation in New England. We spent time with friends who feel like family in Maine. We went to the beach. We slept in. We ate good food. We laughed and talked with those we love well into the nighttime hours. It was great. It was relaxing. It recharged me.

I have been known to overwork a bit. I burn the candles at both ends (and sometimes in the middle) a lot. This can run into some serious issues for my spiritually. When I am run down my guard falls and sin becomes easier to justify. My angry inner man comes out. I get lethargic. My days in professional Christianity lead me to professional hypocrisy form time to time. If you are in ministry you may know what that is like. I think God wants us to rest.

Jesus modeled rest for us. After feeding the five thousand, surely a time of burning the candle at both ends, Jesus knew He needed to be alone and rest. Here is what the Word says about this time:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.  (John 6:15 ESV)

Jesus knew that he needed to recharge. We do too. I think all too often we think that if we are going about God's business He will give us supernatural energy,. I think that is true. I think when we are in the throes of ministry, God gives us power to make it through. Still, I believe He wants us to slip away and recharge from time to time to avoid burnout and sin. Our rest is important.

You may not have a situation right now that lends itself to rest but I would like to give you some ideas on how to recharge:

1. Vacation Away - I don't think there is anything better than getting away from it all. Staycations seldom work for those in ministry, If you stay people find you. Getting away and spending time with your family (or friends if you are single) is crucial to recharging.

2. Unplug - Even if you can't get away for a vacation, you can take a media fast. You can turn the cell phone off, leave the laptop at work and simply step away. This can be for one night or even a week of evenings. If you feel your life is tied down by technology, step away from time to time. The voice mails, emails, and Facebook messages will wait until you plug back in. The world can continue without being in contact with you.

3. Step Away During The Day - Take a few minutes during the day and leave your office. If it is a nice day, take a walk. If weather is bad, drive to a store you enjoy and spend a half an hour window shopping. Taking a few minutes away from the stress of the day can be key to surviving times of stress.

4. Stop For Time With God - A definite need everyday. Stay charged by reading God's Word and praying not only in preparation of the week's events but for your own growth. Don't rush this time. Make it slow and meaningful. Maybe even sing a song of worship after reading and praying. You can't stay charged if you are not plugging into the ultimate source of rest for us.

There are other ways to recharge like hobbies and sports. The important thing is that you not let Satan get a foothold in your life through your working so hard and never getting the rest you need. Even God took a break after creating the world. You will not regret taking one too.

And here are some pictures from my trip to inspire you!


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Stop Stressing About Bringing Camp Home 


Jasper Speaks:

If your group is like mine you attended a summer camp this year. You might have, like us, gone on a mission trip as well. At both of these events there was a constant call for students to "bring it back home". You have probably heard this cry at every camp and mission site you have ever attended. I agree with it in theory but as the years have gone by I wonder if the concept itself is one that can lead us to an unnecessary sense of failure.

Here is what I mean. You take a group of students to a camp or missions experience. You are praying for life change. You see them worship, pray and become broken before God. You have a sense that this experience is going to be "the one" that changes the game. You pile up the church van and head back to your city with anxious anticipation of the metamorphosis of your student ministry as a result of this one week in the summer.

But when you get home disappointment sets in. You get discouraged because you see students slipping back into pre-event habits. They are not suddenly bringing their lost friends to events. They are struggling to keep up their commitment to their quiet times. They are still engaging in gossip. You end up in your next leaders meeting feeling discouraged and lost. They didn't "bring it home". You ask, "What about that week? I thought it was "the one".

I have been there many times but as I grow more seasoned in ministry my perspective is changing. Sure, I have seen kids radically changed by camp and mission trips.That is the very reason I keep doing them. Still, I think that there is more at play here than we may always realize. I think that we put too much emphasis on these once a summer events to change our kids. Without meaning to, I think we often see these events as potential spiritual "quick fixes". But I think that mentality sets us up for failure. I think we have to remember to keep our eyes and our hearts on the big picture.

I have a student who will be a senior this year. He has been in attendance on every mission trip and nearly every camp we have offered since he was a seventh grader. "Jim" is one of those kids who I spent a lot of time praying over at events like this. I kept waiting for that one week that would forever change his life. As much as I prayed and waited, that week never came. I spent a few sleepless nights wondering if he would ever "get it" and take what he experienced in those one time events and be different.

While I was looking for that one time event to change Jim, God was doing something else. I like to think of it as "comprehensive discipleship". In Jim's life (and many other lives in our student ministry) God didn't use "the one" week to change his life. Jim is the great Christian student leader he is today because of many weeks of camps and many weeks of service with a large does of small group attendance, retreat weekends and worship opportunities thrown in for good measure.

You see, as a senior, Jim has become our leader of student leaders. God has truly changed him. He has grown to become a friend of God whose love and passion for Jesus is evident in him all the time. Never at a summer camp or mission trip did Jim have a huge "aha" moment. Instead he had a lot of little aha moments compounded through the years that developed him into a fully devoted follower of Christ. Sure he still messes up and he is far from finished in his spiritual growth, but he has proven himself to be a strong growing Christian with a heart for service and a gift of leading. This is a far cry from the seventh grader I remember nipping at the heels of the high school kids for attention. His change did not occur as the result of one event. I would venture to say that is true for most students in our ministries. It is the years of involvement that lead to change. It is the countless hours we invest in these students that God uses to create disciples not just one week events in the summer.

Now I have had full youth groups begin that life transformation as a result of participating in summer camps and mission trips, (I will never forget a heart breaking trip to inner city Raleigh, North Carolina with a bunch of rural students from Maine that changed us all), but I grow weary of trying to convince my students that one event is something that will make or break them spiritually. I think it is important for us to keep a good perspective on how camps, mission trips, conferences and retreats all fit into the larger mosaic that God is putting together in our student's lives.

I would say that rather than beating ourselves up that one time activities don't seem to radically change our ministries, we need to be patient and watch as the Lord changes our students through comprehensive discipleship. We can stand amazed as we watch how God's plan builds a student's faith not in one week but over the course of a lifetime of love and investing. Maybe your students haven't been transformed the way you expected after a summer full of well intentioned activities. My advice is wait. You might just have a Jim or two in your group who will show you that one week building on the next, will develop a greater metamorphosis than you ever expected.

This post also appeared in the Simply Youth Ministry Weekly update and Youthministry.com: http://www.youthministry.com/stop-stressing-about-bringing-camp-home

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Slow Fade

Jasper Speaks:

I love Casting Crowns. Their music really has ministered to me so many times. I was listening to this song in my office today and it got me thinking:


"Slow Fade"
Be careful little eyes what you see
It's the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings
Be careful little feet where you go
For it's the little feet behind you that are sure to follow

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

Be careful little ears what you hear
When flattery leads to compromise, the end is always near
Be careful little lips what you say
For empty words and promises lead broken hearts astray

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day

The journey from your mind to your hands
Is shorter than you're thinking
Be careful if you think you stand
You just might be sinking

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day

Oh be careful little eyes what see
Oh be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above is looking down in love
Oh be careful little eyes what you see


It really got me thinking about how all the little compromises in our lives add up. I was thinking about how so often we think that if we aren't "big sinning" then it is okay. I think we don't give enough credence to keeping purity a priority in every part of our lives. We think, "if I look at that or if I say this" it will be okay. I mean Jesus might not do it but it is okay if I do".

Now I know we don't necessarily have that internal monologue going all the time but we do compromise all the time. We don't consider the consequences of those little things. I think of a white shirt and a little dirt.


dirtyshirt

The shirt might be very clean but if we drop a couple of grains of dirt onto the shirt everyday eventually WE become filthy. 


mudman


When we go places we shouldn't, see things we ought not to, and listen to things that do not edify us, we are throwing a little dirt on our clean (in Christ) heart. After awhile, as we continue to allow these things into our lives, our hearts will become as dirty as that shirt.

The hard part is, unfortunately our hearts are not always as easy to examine as our clothing. We don't always realize when compromise is soiling our hearts. Like the song says, it is a slow fade. The darkness seldom takes over all at once. It most often takes over one small speck of dust at a time. As we continue to allow the dirt to contaminate us, the small specks add up and our hearts are covered in dirt before we realize it.

One of the verses that often come to mind for me is 2 Timothy 2:22.  The reference is easy to remember and it's Truth is worth living by:

"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart".

I used to have that verse on an index card taped to the inside cover of my Bible. Purity is so hard to guard. Our world today devalues purity of heart. As Christians we are called to live a life above the bar. The question is are we letting the little things add up until our hearts are no long pure but dark? Are we fleeing the evil desires of youth or are we slowly embracing them? Are we letting them cover our hearts slowly so that we barely detect a change?

Is it time to flee?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Eat Pray Love


Jasper Speaks:

So this weekend Kendra and I had a date night which involved using free movie passes. Since you are limited in what you can see when not paying, we ended up at Eat, Pray, Love. It won out because it had the chick flick feel for her and the Julia Roberts on a screen for two hours for me. I must admit, it wasn't a very good movie. But it did get me thinking about some things God is telling me to do in my life. Here are my thoughts.

EAT
A few years back I was working out every day and eating not so much. I lost a lot of weight. I was still no bathing suit model (although I was in talks with Speedo LOL!) but I was healthier and trimmer. Over the past three years I have gained over half of that weight back. NOT GOOD. I think God is telling me to take better care of the temple he gave me. I need to go back to eating to live and not living to eat. I need to work out again. I need to stop making excuses. I need to see this as a spiritual thing in my life. I need to see that a lack of control is not what God has in mind. I am pretty sure I read that the fruit of the spirit included self control.


PRAY
I have to admit that my time with God has not been as quality as I would like it to be over the past few months. I think that He wants me to pursue Him more. I need to spend more time in prayer. I need to spend more time pouring over His Word more for self correction than for sermon preparation. I need to run after Him so that my heart stays strong in obedience and so that He can do great things in me and as a result, through me as well. I need to remember how much like cool water on a hot day my time with Him really is like for my soul. Then I need to make it happen. All the time.


LOVE
An outpouring of spending more quality time with God will be a greater love for Him. I believe when I am loving Him more, I can love my wife and son more. I can love my dad more. I can love my siblings more. I can love my friends more. I can love --- you get the picture. I think that God can teach me so much more about love and that He can help me live it out. I think he wants me to start that immediately. I think He is calling me to love even when it is hard. I must admit, I hate that a little but I know it is best for me in the end.

I am praying that God will help me in all three of these areas. I am ready for a makeover. I want to be healthy physically and spiritually. I want to be known for how much I love people. I am not sure what always distracts me from these things but I am sure God will help me do better as I eat, pray and love.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Living The Life


Jasper Speaks:

So, in the spirit of sharing what God is showing me in my quiet times this week, I thought I would share this quote from My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers:


 

   "You may know all about the doctrine of sanctification, but are you running it out into the practical
     issues of  your life? Every bit of our life, physical, moral and spiritual, is to be judged by
     the standard  of the Atonement".


This caused me to think. How many of us really live out our faith all the time? I struggle from time to time with letting other things get in my way. I end up getting focused on me and not God. If we are not careful, these times can snowball and before we know it, we are in over our heads and our witness is being hampered.

This week it seems that God is really trying to teach me so much about the importance of not walking alone. I know that many of us fear transparency. We feel that admitting our struggles to someone else will make them think less of us. I admit I deeply struggle with this. Still, I can not help but think that God's Word tells me that in order to really live out my sanctification in the practical areas, I have to be surrounded by people who make sure I do what I need to do.

It seems that Christian leaders fall when they shy away from accountability. We know a lot about what it means to live the life of a Christ follower but we don't always actually reflect that. When we have others around us, it helps us to stay on track and live out that sanctification in practical ways with greater ease. Putting ourselves at a distance in our own protective bubble will only lead to Satan getting a stronger hold on us.

If we are not living the life in the practical ways, slowly we will begin to not live it in any area. Slacking off of time with God may seem minimal in the list of sins, however, that time of not connecting will fester. It will begin to chip away at us. It will lead to more frequent sinning. It will lead to more complex sin in our lives.

I am examining my own life right now. I am not sure I have the base of accountability that I need. I am a Youth Pastor and summer lends itself to be a time of a huge lack of accountability for me. Often that manifests itself in how awful August is for me spiritually. I want to have people come alongside me to help me not crash and burn. I know it is important. I am learning it is a necessity. So many times we preach the importance of submission in the practical areas of life. How often do we live it?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Take It All?

Jasper Speaks:


One of the resources I use for my quiet time is a devotional abort hymns. It is not one I always go to by on days I need a bit more "inspiration" than my usual devos, I go and see what God might have for me. Today these lyrics came up:

     "Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
     take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love;
     Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee; take
     my voice and let me sing always only, for my King.
     Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for Thee; take my silver and my gold—
     not a mite would I withhold.
     Take my love—my God, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself—and I will be ever,
     only, all for Thee, ever, only, all for thee."*

Then I saw this on a friend's Twitter. "Christians don't tell lies they just go to church and sing them." ~ A.W. Tozer. Perhaps God is trying to tell me something. I mean I think that I have sung these words a lot. I wonder how many times I really meant them. I mean am I really striving to ever only be all for Jesus? Seems like there is a lot more all for me than all for thee in my life. If we live all for Jesus lives, they would be different. We would put others first. We would be humble. We wouldn't worry so much about having things. Unfortunately, we aren't ever only all for Him. too often we get caught up in all for me attitudes.

Laying everything down for Christ is hard. The Bible is full of people who started off gung-ho about serving Jesus. Matthew 8 speaks of two of these. One disciple who said I will go home with you and Jesus quickly told him that He was homeless. Another wanted to bury His father. Jesus said if he was serious he wouldn't worry about that. Two pretty huge sacrifices were challenged there. I think all too often we say, "I'll go and do whatever you want" while not REALLY meaning it.

My prayer today is that I would mean those things. I want more of Jesus in my life. I want to be strong enough to give up what I have for him without counting the cost. That may take awhile and truthfully, the reality of those words scare me. I do want Christ to be in me. I do want to be living all for Him. I can say that now but wonder what will happen if sacrifice is truly upon me.

So, I continue to pray and seek. I trust that I am growing in Christ daily. I pray that He will help me live a life where I can sing "ever only all for thee" without a hint of hypocrisy,


*Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990), 256.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Accountability and Staying Clean


Jasper Speaks:
Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 2 Ti 2:21.

I read this verse as part of my quiet time today. It made me think. Sin sucks. I know that is not a profound statement. Sin can cripple us. When we let sin into our lives it is like we are telling God we don't want to be used by Him. The most wonderful times in my life have come from service. I get energized by the times I can really sense God using me. Sometimes I let sin get in the way of that.

When you look at it, it does not make a lot of sense. When we sin there may be momentary pleasure but in the long run, it weakens us and makes us weary. I get tired and run down when I let sin take the reins. I find my self lackadaisical and impotent. Why then would I be drawn to it?

It goes back to our enemy and his mission statement. He wants to steal, kill and destroy. For all of time he has been convincing people that sin is attractive. He has gotten very good at what he does. He is bold in his deception. Remember that he even tempted Jesus to sin. What arrogance! That same pride is in his approach to us. He wants us to believe that sin is good. He understands that if we are not cleansed from the dishonorable that we cannot be used for the honorable. So, he does all he can to steer us off the right path.

That is where the need for others in our Christian walk comes in again. We need brothers and sisters to walk beside us. We need trusted people to speak into our lives and ask the tough questions. We need people who will not pull punches and tell us when they see sin in our lives.

I want to be a vessel for honorable use. I want God to use me to the utmost. I realize for that to happen I have to pull away from the lies of Satan and live a pure and holy life. I need to seek more accountability. As pastor that can be hard. There is the pressure that if we are transparent we could hurt God's message. I think that is why it is invaluable to have other men surround me. I seek out men who love me and have nothing to do directly with my ministry. I can be transparent. I can share my heart. Even though this is a hard thing for me, I know I must pursue it to remain holy.

Satan wants us to walk this path alone. His best lies are told in private. I pray that my path is littered with godly friends who will keep the conversation loud and strong toward holiness so that I may avoid the whispers of my enemy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

We're All In This Together


Jasper Speaks:

Being a student leader can be a lonely road. We often are the misunderstood person in our church. How could anyone in their right mind ever want to spend endless hours with teenagers? Who would be willing to sacrifice sleep, good food and even sometimes comfort to pour their lives into the next generation? Even fellow staff members and church leaders can often give us that condescending, "bless your heart" look. Sometimes this lone ranger mentality affects the way we do ministry. We try to convince students on a regular basis that they need to find friendship and accountability to thrive in their walk with Christ. Many times, however, we do not make these relationships a vital part of our lives.

When I preach on the importance of relationships I am often drawn to Ecclesiastes 4:

    "I turned my head and saw yet another wisp of smoke on its way to nothingness:
    a solitary person, completely alone—no children, no family, no friends—yet working
    obsessively late into the night, compulsively greedy for more and more, never bothering
    to ask, "Why am I working like a dog, never having any fun? And who cares?" 

   It's better to have a partner than go it alone.
   Share the work, share the wealth.
   And if one falls down, the other helps,
   But if there's no one to help, tough!

  Two in a bed warm each other.
   Alone, you shiver all night.

  By yourself you're unprotected.
   With a friend you can face the worst.
   Can you round up a third?
   A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped."

We are not ever meant to go this life alone. Still, I have felt like I am working like a dog and no one cares a lot of times. Just as our students need others along the road, we need people coming alongside us to strengthen and encourage us. I think it is all too easy to get caught up in doing what we feel God has called us to do and letting our focus narrow to a point that we do not see the need for others. I think that is exactly what the enemy wants.

Satan knows that a saint on his own is vulnerable. We have no one to share are burdens with. We have no one to hold us accountable. When we are weak there is no one to remind us of the Truth. The enemy's attacks can be strong then and he wants to kick us when we are down. This can result in discouragement at the least and major spiritual failure at the most. I really believe the enemy wants to steal our joy, kill our witness and destroy our lives. I think when we try to do ministry alone, we make his job easier.

I think as Christian leaders we need to do our best to seek out people to walk this road with us. We need to find friendship and accountability with fellow believers. Student ministry is not a solo event. In order to be successful and see a Kingdom difference, we need to establish an army of close friends to walk alongside us down the road of life.

Friday, August 06, 2010

MOG WOG - MEN OF GOD WOMEN OF GOD 2010 - WOG Video

Jasper Speaks:


Mirror Barlow Girl from Jasper Rains on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

MOG WOG - Men of God Women of God - MOG Video 2010


Jasper Speaks:


The Man You Want Me To Be by Phil Joel from Kerusso Drama & Worship Ministry on Vimeo.


Will post the WOG video tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

 Put on Love, Which Binds Them All Together in Perfect Unity: Summer 2010

Jasper Speaks:

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:4-6

It has been an exciting summer in the student ministry. We have been busy with many things. As we reflect on the summer one word comes to mind: Unity. It organically became the theme of our summer together. It has been wonderful to witness how God has brought our group together. God has used the events of the summer to remind our students of their common purpose and their love for one another.
Each week, on Friday, throughout the summer we have gathered at the Taco Bell on McKelvey for a time of food and fellowship. Students who are new to the ministry have had a chance to get to know student ministry veterans in an unthreatening environment. As we have eaten together and played games we have been able to get to know one another better and be a witness to the staff of the restaurant. Spending quality time together has increased group unity.

This summer Dayo Alara and Aaron Ferguson have done a great job leading a Saturday morning Bible study small group called, Bibles and Bagels at the St. Louis Bread Company at Westport Plaza. An average of 10-12 students have gotten up early on Saturday mornings to come together and study God’s Word in this public place. I am so proud of our student leaders (there are many) who are rising up to take ownership and help to guide others spiritually. We should be proud of our juniors and seniors (and our soon to be college freshmen) who have shown the love of Jesus and a willingness to serve that has been an amazing example. Their efforts have also added to the unity of our group.

Super Summer is always a time for our students to be challenged spiritually. This year as we discussed in detail the road to salvation, it was touching to see our students praying with and for one another. As God revealed himself to each student their peers were there with arms wide open, crying and praying with and for them. What an amazing view of how the church should be. Unity was apparent.

Then came our mission trip. Our time in Pawhuska, Oklahoma was a bit different than we had planned. As is often the case, God had more to do IN us than THROUGH us. Our students willingly braved the heat to do minor construction and minister to children. There was a sense of satisfaction as students and leaders worked together to repair homes and touch hearts. The best part may have been in our evening times together when our students spoke of the love and appreciation God was giving them for one another. Each night students spoke of the admiration they had for the others in our group. Our girls commended the guys on how they displayed Christ to them by treating them as gentlemen should. The guys praised the girls for their hard work and their display of the virtues of Proverbs 31. I must admit that there were many times that a lump rose in my throat as I heard students testifying of the way they saw Christ displayed in their fellow team members. The week reminded us how blessed we are to have one another. It was a wonderful unity building time.

I am reminded of Colossians 3 that says at the heart of unity is love. It has been a pleasure to see God increase our students love for one another and the world around them this summer. As I look back on these events, I am reminded that when Christ prayed for us, just before His crucifixion in John 17. He prayed that we would be united in love. I pray it continues in our student ministry and pray that it is made manifest in our congregation. Thank you all for your prayers for us this summer and we would appreciate them continuing as we carry on what has begun. It has been a wonderful thing to watch our students live out that unity together this summer. We are looking forward to an exciting school year as we seek the Lord in continuing to build on what He has so lovingly begun this summer --- unity.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book Review - The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose

Jasper Speaks:

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The times that I thought were not as great were when he implied that things like racism and homophobia were limited to conservative Christan colleges. Brown may be progressive (although I am sure these things occur there) but I would venture to guess the situations that made him uncomfortable in these areas at Liberty happen at every school in the country. However, it was a great look at where we get it right and wrong. It was much more fair than I expected.

The book shed light on our inconsistencies.  Sometimes it was hard to read about the actions of the Christians in the book but I found it refreshing that Roose also seemed taken aback by how genuine people were. A non-Christian entering this situation comes with many biases. I was happy to read that Roose allowed most of those to rest while he was on this journey. The book is thought provoking and only seems forced a few times throughout. It was a good glimpse on how people outside the Christian "bubble" view thos eof us who claim Christ as Lord. I would recommend the reading.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Super Summer FLIP 2010

Jasper Speaks:

We went to Super Summer and here are the highlights:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Preaching in the Big Pulpit


Jasper Speaks:

Me preaching on 5/23/2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lessons From The Life And Death of Brandon Pyles


Jasper Speaks:

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So, as many of you know, last week a former student of mine took his own life. We were all sent reeling as he was such a joyful, good hearted spirit. It very much just came out of nowhere. It was a long week as I grappled with what it all meant. I think I have realized that in many ways I will not know soon exactly what to make of it all. In fact, this side of Heaven, I probably will never know.

I process a lot of my thoughts through writing. So as I sit to put thoughts to page today I want to convey some things that I am learning in the midst of all this. I am reflecting on Brandon’s life and death and how God is teaching me things as a result. I know I did not know Brandon nearly as well as some but he was always a student who stood out to me. He made me laugh. He made teaching a bit more fun. I have said a lot over the past week that many times when someone dies we romanticize them. I try not to do that. With Brandon, the many things I have read that people have said about him were truth not romance. He really was a great encourager and a person who nearly always brought joy to people’s life. I know he did to mine.  I think that makes all of this harder. I have asked so many times, “How Lord, did He get to this point”? We have all asked, “Why” more times than we could count.

As I sat in a pew surrounded by former students at Brandon’s funeral, I could feel God starting to mend our hearts. I think there was great wisdom in what Pastor Dave Greiner shared with us that day. Although we will never have the answers to all of our questions it comes down to Brandon taking his eyes off hope. He knew where real hope lies but something caused him to look away from that.

As I grapple with my own emotions about this tragedy, I lean on that hope. You see, many years ago I made a choice to follow Christ with all I have. I realized that I was a sinner and that by doing things that were against God’s perfect plan, I was separated from Him. I believed that Jesus came as God on Earth and lived and died so that I could know God and be forgiven of those sins. I knew I needed to confess those sins to him and say that I would do my best to not do those things again. I knew I needed to let Him become the boss of my life. I did all of those things kneeling by my parent’s bed. I was overcome and brought to the point of tears when I first REALLY felt the hope of Christ come over me.

But the part that is greatest to me now is the way God continues to give me hope. It wasn’t one big dose at that moment and that was all. God continues to give me hope that things will be okay. I have had a lot of difficult times since that day but somewhere inside me, I have felt the hope I have in Christ telling me that there is so much more TO this life. I felt the hope telling me that there is so much more THAN this life. I pray that we who loved Brandon will honor his memory by embracing Christ, our only real hope.

On Friday, as Brandon’s casket passed by the pew where I was sitting, my first instinct was to think, Lord, what a waste! Almost immediately I felt something in me squash that thought. I felt hope creeping back up from where it had been buried since Nick emailed me on Monday night with the news of Brandon’s death. At that moment, looking at the quilt covered casket of one of my favorite students, I know God told me that He is doing something incredible. Even through the tragedy and grief God is at work. I absolutely believe that God’s promise in Romans 8:28 is TRUE as it says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”.

The passing of Brandon Pyles brings unexplainable grief. I get that. However, I also believe that God wants to do great things in the lives of those Brandon touched. Brandon taught me this week that God has a plan that is greater than we can imagine. The hard stuff works for our good just as much as the joyful things. I pray that we will all seek Christ and His love to not only give us hope in this difficult time but to give us hope for all that life will bring. I hope to have many conversations sharing what God has taught me through the life and death of Brandon Pyles.