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

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.


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


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.

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.

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.

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.