Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Jasper Speaks:

In an ill fated attempt to stay relevant, I decided I would log into my Amazon account and download a best seller. I chose Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It stuck out to me because it is set in my home state of Missouri and Ben Affleck has been in a small southeastern town in our state filming the motion picture version of the book. My curiosity was peaked. I greatly regret that decision.

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

I cannot say enough about how bad this book was. The book is full of gratuitous profanity, unbelievable scenarios, and basic geographic inaccuracies. There is not a redeemable character in the book. You hate both Nick and Amy and never care for either.Go, Nick's sister is also a hard hearted soul with whom you never engage. Amy's parents are repulsive. Even the cops are annoying. It is a poorly contrived book that does not deserve the exposure it is getting. There are giant convenient moments that make no sense throughout the novel. One thing I couldn't put out of my head is how does Amy get away with buying a car on craigslist and then driving it through at least two states with never having the car placed in her name or tagged? Seems like a hole to me. Also, Flynn's description of Hannibal is inaccurate. The downtown area has many shops that are still open and thriving. It is not a downtown area with for rent signs in most windows as Flynn describes. Although Flynn is from Missouri, the areas she tries to describe are nothing as she writes them to be. I live in Missouri and particularly in the areas the book tries to represent and her descriptions are laughable at best.

Amy's plot against her husband is contrived and thoroughly unbelievable even by soap opera standards. The major plot twists are ludicrous and not even plausible. The ending is ridiculous and has so many errors in details that a bad crime procedural on network TV wouldn't try to get away with such malarkey in one of those first suspects you know is brought in too early on the episode to be the bad guy moments. I have no idea why this book has received any acclaim. I would never recommend it to anyone. Please do not waste your time. This book is overlong and not satisfying. At the half way point the book should have ended and it would have been 75% better but still pretty bad.

My next book will take me back to reading that glorifies God. I am ashamed I wasted time with this. If this is what it takes to achieve relevancy, I guess I will stay irrelevant.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Jasper Speaks:

The time of year when we think about new things is upon us. With a new year comes a pressure to resolve to new things. It is the magic calendar flip that gives us a “do-over”. For some weight loss is on the resolution list. Others may resolve to spend less money. Still others will look to 2014 as the year they finally kick an old habit. Many will simply resolve not to resolve. 

I think the reason we resolve each year is that as humans we are drawn to new beginnings. We want to let the past be behind us and the forge on to the new opportunities ahead. We want to be optimistic about our future and we are refreshed by the idea that we can begin again.

I am so thankful we serve a God who is all about giving new beginnings. He wants to wipe our slate clean. To be honest, I have been known to not offer second chances as easily as I should. Sometimes it is hard for me to let go of the past. However, God promises to cast away the past. But that does not come automatically. He tells us in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins he will always forgive those sins and cleanse us. Like taking a soiled shirt and washing it clean, the dirt of our past is removed when we come humbly to him and confess our sins. 

Lamentations tells us this: Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”

We don’t have to wait until the calendar tells us it is a new year. God’s mercy comes to us anew every morning. As we come before him with our hearts humbled and ask for his forgiveness and grace, he will freely bestow that upon us.

As this new year begins, I pray we will all remember that the new can begin whenever our hearts allow. May our resolution be to live a life more like Christ and to pursue holiness in his sight.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


We are approaching the season where families and come together and reflect on the good gifts of the year behind us. Many of us will travel to visit people all over the country (and some maybe even all over the world). As we spend time together, I pray that we remember the greatest gift of all. 2 Corinthians 9:15 says, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" 

The gift that God has given in redemption and forgiveness in Christ is indescribable. There are simply no words, in any language that can express the importance of God’s gift to us. Once we have accepted that gift it effects our lives. We are different. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that in Christ we become new creations. There is a difference in our lives when we realize the importance of God’s gift to us.

What Are The Effects?

1. We are forgiven of our sins.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 10:11-12

This is basic but the fundamental truth of our redeemed lives. God has taken away our sins.  This act gives us the opportunity to know Him. This gives us an open line of communication with the creator of the universe. Because of the forgiveness of our sins, which God promises to forget we ever had, a relationship is made possible.

2. We are members of His family.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:16-17

We are adopted in to his family. As an adoptive parent this one means a lot to me.  When we were in court adopting Jackson one of the questions we were asked was if we understood that with this adoption Jackson becomes an heir to our estate (which is HUGE of course) just like he was born to us. That is the same picture God paints for us when we accept Him. We are heirs to all that is His and He owns EVERYTHING! When we accept His gift, we are His children forever. Just as no one could ever tell me that my son is not mine, No one can separate us from our Heavenly Father.

3. We are the house of His Spirit.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 1 Corinthians 13:16-17

Our Men’s Bible Study has been learning about the Holy Spirit this fall. There have been many challenging times as God has revealed to me the many times I do not seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my life. The Holy Spirit resides in us as soon as we accept the gift that God gives us. We are basically walking places of worship. As we accept the gift of God, we should be living a life that reflects that in worship. That means all day everyday not just corporate worship on Sunday. The Holy Spirit lives in you and that should affect your responses to the struggles and joys of life.

4. We are recipients of His peace.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Just like God's gift of Jesus is indescribable, so is the peace we experience. Not peace like the world longs for but a peace we don't understand. The Holy Spirit helps us to trust that God has a plan. He wants us to experience peace. In the gift He gives us is a peace that we may not be able to describe but that we can trust completely.

5. We are residents of His Home.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God[a]; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:1-3

We get to live with Him forever! Before the fall ever occurred God had a rescue plan for us. When Adam and Eve sinned, God’s perfect world that was freely given to us became corrupt. The sins of the ages have destroyed the paradise that was present in Eden. As an effect of accepting the gift of God in our lives, we will get to experience the complete restoration of paradise. The end of the story will become the beginning of eternity and we will live in Heaven with Christ forever.

Today, I pray we will all take time out from the hustle and bustle and remember the gift that changed everything. We cannot describe this gift but through the power of the Holy Spirit the effect of the gift can change us and change the world.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Seasons of Love

Jasper Speaks:

The changing of another season is upon us. I love this time of year. The cool, crisp mornings are beautiful. As we turn from summer to autumn we are reminded of the seasons of life as well. It seems that we all go through periods in our lives where we are content and happy and periods where life is more difficult.

I must admit, I love the times of contentment. I love it when things are going well.  During these times I have no problem trusting God. I understand His plan. I am willing to go along with whatever he says. I am confident in my faith and feel prepared for what is coming. When I am in a season of lie where things are smooth, it is easy to trust in the Father.

I wish I could say the same during the difficult times. It seems when times are hard our response is often to question God. We wonder how He could allow things we do not like to happen. We question His wisdom in our circumstances. If life isn't going our way, we tend to get discouraged.

However, just as autumn turns to winter, the seasons of our lives change as well. If our lives were simple and worked out well all the time, why would we need to trust in the Lord? I believe the difficult times come to increase our faith. Our harshest seasons are the times when God’s greatest work is occurring in us. It is hard to rejoice in the harsh seasons, but these are the times when we need to thank God for what He is doing in us.

God reminds us of this in James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)

The harsh seasons of life help us. They help us to stand tall and see that, through Christ, we can overcome.
These times provide us an opportunity to rely on the strength of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we cry out to God in these desperate hours, He hears and we must remember that the difficult times are part of the grand plan He has for our life. With each challenging season, we are moving toward maturity. God is working His progressive sanctification in us. We are changing, growing and maturing. Although it is not easy, we need to rejoice in these times because God uses our difficulties to draw us closer to Him.
How do we find the strength to rejoice in difficult seasons? We surrender. We give up control and trust God. We acknowledge that His ways are better --- even when we don’t understand. We delve into His Word and remind ourselves of His promises of faithfulness. Then we worship Him. We praise Him in the stormy seasons of life. This process is best outlined by Paul in Romans 12:1-2 (ESV):

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Surrender and sacrifice are the stepping stones to transformation. When we take time in the harsh seasons to worship, god changes us. Our mindset is different. We are changed. We see that god has a plan and we become willing to pursue it.

I encourage you, that if you are in a harsh season, remember that just as summer’s heat gives way to autumn’s refreshing coolness, your difficulties will pass as well. However, I also encourage you to praise the Lord in the stormy season. Let Him renew and change you. God has a plan. Let Him transform you so that you may see it more clearly.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Working Out

Jasper Speaks:

I have once again begun to workout. This is far from my favorite activity. I have often wondered why I was cursed with the metabolism of a slug. I wish I was one of those people who could just think and burn calories. Alas, I am not. So I work out. My torture of choice is the treadmill. I walk and walk and watch as the little red numbers indicate just how much work out I am really doing. The thing about a treadmill is as much as you walk, you don’t ever really get anywhere. Sure there is a measurement of distance but when you are done. You are standing in the same place.

However, it seems that when I am working out on a treadmill and I am getting close to giving up it helps to reach down and as I am walking, take a long drink from my ice cold water bottle. That moment of refreshing gets me going again. My thirst is quenched. I can meet my goal for the day. Yes, it may seem that I am going nowhere but sometimes, even just a quick drink, helps me stay in the game when my motivation starts to wane.

Sometimes I feel like I am on a spiritual treadmill.  It seems no matter how much I try to walk, I wind up in the same place. It is a dry and parched place to be.  I don’t like to be there. I feel as though I am doing the same thing over and over. It seems like I am stuck in a rut and am getting thirstier by the minute.
Just like physical water changes my perception mentally during my workout, the rich goodness of the living water found in God’s Word refreshes me spiritually. In those times when I feel as though I am not making any progress spiritually, drinking in the words of the Scriptures is the moment of encouragement that keeps me going.

I think of the Words of the Psalmist:

As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God. I thirst for God, the living God.
When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night,
while all day long people say to me, “Where is your God?” I remember this as I pour out my heart: how I walked with many, leading the festive procession to the house of God,
with joyful and thankful shouts. Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:1-5 (HCSB)

When I drink from the fountain of God’s Word I am motivated to remember that though the race is long, my hope is in the Lord. I can continue. Though I may be aching spiritually, and my steps seem to be leading to nowhere, I can trust that God has an outcome that is worth the journey. I am able to quench my thirst for a reminder of God’s plan and love by drinking in what He promises me in His Word. Just as cool water while working out refreshes me and reminds me that I am working toward a goal of good health, consistent time in the Word reminds me that healthy discipleship is a journey that ends in eternal glory.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Youth Ministry is Easy - A Short Review

Jasper Speaks:

Aaron Shaver confronts the myths of youth ministry in this easy to read, and practical little book. He discusses everything from parent relationships to your own personal spiritual health. What is good about this volume is that it not only alerts you to the misconceptions of youth ministry, it also offers quality and practical actions you can take to battle the issues at hand. I like to have practical ideas when I am confronting things and this book defines these problems then quickly speaks to how you can be the best youth pastor you can be by taking real actionable steps. 

This is a great book for those new to ministry especially. However, as a ministry veteran, I found what Aaron had to say to be a timely reminder of what is most important in youth ministry. This is a book you will read more than once and will come back to later. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review Coming

Jasper Speaks:

Very soon I will have a book review posted here for a book I have been excited about reading. It is called Youth Ministry is Easy (And 9 other Lies). I have been super swamped at the church lately but hope to have the review live by the end of the week. Check back soon!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Importance of Men

Jasper Speaks:

I have been an advocate of better men's ministry for a long time. Men are the God ordained leaders of their homes and the church. As the man goes, so often goes both of these institutions. There are some startling facts when we take this into consideration:

  • The typical U.S. Congregation draws an adult crowd that’s 61% female, 39% male. This gender gap shows up in all age categories. [1]
  • On any given Sunday there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches. [2]
  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands. [3]
  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants. [4]
  • The majority of church employees are women (except for ordained clergy, who are overwhelmingly male). [5]
  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return. [6]
  • More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only one out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church. [7]
  • Churches overseas report gender gaps of up to 9 women for every adult man in attendance. [8]
  • Christian universities are becoming convents. The typical Christian college in the U.S. enrolls almost 2 women for every 1 man. [9]
  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry. [10]
Those are disturbing facts. The truth is men have been taking a back seat for a long time. Women have taken on roles of leadership that most certainly should be filled by men for decades. Some would attribute this to men having the idea that church is for the weak. I have heard men say that they believe church is for women and children. Sometimes we have created that culture. Women's ministries thrive while we leave the men's ministry to nothing more than a quarterly breakfast. We don't challenge men to live their faith. We turn a blind eye as men compartmentalize their lives. We inadvertently have given the idea that faith is okay to own but not always practical in a man's way of life.
The upside to these statistics is that studies also show if you reach the man, 93% of the time his family will follow.[11] It is imperative that we do more to reach and disciple men. As a husband and a father, I understand the pressure of leading. I have failed at my responsibilities more times than I care to admit. As a pastor, I see the need to equip men to share their faith and help them grow in their Christian walk. If we are going to reach the world, we have to reach its men.
I believe it is time for the church to rise up and become more intentional in it's ministry to men. The church needs to divert money and resources to this area. My home church did this last year. It raised the men's ministry budget over 10 times what it had been in the past. We began a new group devoted to men's discipleship. We created fellowship opportunities. We are challenging our men to pursue their relationship with God all the time with all their strength. We still have a long way to go.
The world is a hard place for a man. The lure of sin is strong. Not a month goes by that I do not hear of a Christian man who is struggling with pornography, extra marital affairs, ethical issues and so much more. The church needs to turn our hearts toward men and help empower them to win the battles that they face. Many men are waiting for the opportunity to learn how to be more godly husbands and fathers. My prayer today is that the church would rise up and offer men a relevant, safe place to find what they need to be more like Christ. If the church can do that we will all grow stronger for the battle. 
[1] “U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 29 October 2003, .

[2] This statistic comes from Barna’s figures on male/female worship attendance, overlayed upon the Census 2000 numbers for adult men and women in the U.S. population.

[3] I came up with this figure by taking the U.S. Census 2000 numbers for total married adults and overlaying Barna Research’s year 2000 percentages of male vs. female attendance at weekly worship services. The figures suggest at least 24.5 million married women attend church on a given weekend, but only 19 million married men attend. That’s 5.5 million more women, or 22.5%. The actual number may be even higher, because married people attend church in much greater numbers than singles.

[4] Barna Research Online, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America,” 6 March 2000, www.barna.org

[5] Ibid.

[6] “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church,” PowerPoint presentation accompanying study, available at the LifeWay Web site,http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0,1703,A=165949&M=200906,00.html, accessed 12 September 2007

.[7] Barna, “Women are the Backbone of Christian Congregations in America.”

[8] Church for Men http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

[9] Camerin Courtney, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Christianity Today, Single Minded. View athttp://www.christianitytoday.com/singles/newsletter/mind40630.html

.[10] Based on a show of hands at the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries meeting in 2005. The consensus in the room among hundreds of men’s ministry experts was that less than 10% of congregations had any ongoing ministry to men. Compare this to the 110% of churches that offer women’s and children’s ministries.

[11] Studies conducted by the In His Grip Organization http://www.inhisgripgolf.com/pages.asp?pageid=97167, 2012.
Many of these statistics were found at http://churchformen.com/men-and-church/where-are-the-men/

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Youth Pastor --- Who Is Your Mentor?

Jasper Speaks:

I have a great mentor. I have years of longevity alongside him. I have learned from his sermons how to speak to teens in a relevant way. I have learned how to design ministry from him. I have listened to him as he has warned of pitfalls and encouraged success. I credit much of the pastor I am today to his tutelage.

We have only met a couple of times.

My mentor is Doug Fields. He has been accused of being my "man crush" on more than one occasion. Through the years I have listened to Doug's preaching style and it has had a major impact on my own. I have known many youth pastors who have admired many theological giants and have created messages like theirs.  I have also seen the bored, unengaged faces of teens not ready to hear such theological pontificating. There is nothing wrong with going deep with students. I encourage it. However, I learned from Doug that going deep is best framed in relevance with a spice of humor and poignancy along the way. I know I am the communicator I am today because, without knowing I was doing anything special, I spent a lot of time listening to Doug's messages. His expert use of personal narrative built on passion for God's Word and teenagers eventually seeped into my sermon prep and never left. I am better for it.

I know I am old school but I read just about anything Doug wrote. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, solidly helped mold my philosophy of working with students. I was about 15 years into student ministry when I read the latter and I still recommend it to anyone starting at a new church. His book What Matters Most when NO is better than YES helped me prioritize life and ministry when I really needed that help. I've listened to podcasts and sat in on seminars soaking in all that I could.

In the truly formative moments of my ministry I was in New England. There were no other more experienced youth pastors to learn from in my community. Simply Youth Ministry became a lifeline. I learned so much from their resources. 

Doug has been a mentor to me. I have introduced myself a couple of times and even once got a shout out from him on a podcast (although he did make fun of my name). Other than that, he has no clue who I am but his influence on me cannot be ignored. 

I have had other pastors come alongside me and I have been richer for it. Having a mentor is important. Having one who understands and loves student ministry is essential. You may be in a place where there is no one around to physically walk alongside you in your ministry, I urge you to find a voice who is passionate about students and learn from him. Communication with students is not the same as communication with adults. Ministry with students is not the same as ministry with adults. I would encourage you to find godly youth pastors who you can study. Perhaps they will never know you. Perhaps your mentor will be like mine and you will only have brief encounters face to face. Don't do this alone. Learn from those who have gone before.

My prayer is that you would find a person nearby who could mentor you. You could learn the ropes from them. Even if you have been at this for awhile there is still so much you could learn. I would also pray that you would seek out "successful" youth ministry veterans and read what they write and listen to how they communicate. We all need mentors, even if they don't know who we are. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spiritual Battles

Jasper Speaks:

Some days being in ministry does not seem rewarding. I remember the spiritual warfare retreat I did with one youth group earlier on in ministry. 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

Suddenly I was reminded of another leader at another time. He came to work with thankless people. He had a small band of soldiers whom 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.

Some days 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 are the best thanks we could ever earn.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sacrificing Too Much?

Jasper Speaks:

One of the greatest challenges student ministries face is the over scheduling of families. It seems that those to whom we minister are living lives of greater complexity. There was a time where families made church the priority. That time is behind us. Whether it is a desire for their students to gain social status or to gain the possibility of a scholarship for college, parents have chosen to place other things at the center of their students lives. I served in student ministry for 23 years and one of the most frequent frustrations voiced is that sports (and band in some areas) takes priority over church life. I have heard many a Youth Pastor bemoan having to build his yearly schedule around the sporting events of his students.

We are living in a world where student ministry is being declare a failing enterprise when you look at the retention rate for students in college. I have long said that this problem is much larger than the student ministry. I think that the overall atmosphere of the congregation plays a part but I know that the largest influence in a student's life is still his or her parents. The importance a parent puts on their relationship with Christ and the need to fellowship with other Christians plays a large part in this problem. When parents choose sports and other activities as the driving force of their family life, the church suffers and I believe so does the spiritual health of the student.

I found this article that I think presents some pretty good arguments to support the role of other activities in the downfall of students post high school. I hope you leave your comments to tell me what you think of these assertions.

Sacrificing for Sports

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stick It Out In Student Ministry

Jasper Speaks:

Some people believe that student ministry is endless fun and games. You get to plan exciting events, go laser tagging, travel the country and the world and stay up late in rooms full of laughter. All that may be true but anyone who has dedicated their heart and soul to pouring into the lives of students knows it is much more than that. Student ministry is messy. Students have real problems. It can be taxing just keeping up with the latest issues that students are facing. There are days, weeks and even months that most student ministry professionals feel like they are in the wrong line of work. I say, that is a good thing.

When you feel in a rut and inadequate, that is just the time when you can let God use you the most. When you feel down and out, remember that you can give up but you have to give up to Christ to do the work for you. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 sounds like it echoes from the very soul of a student minister:

"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

There are certainly days when student ministry seems full of insults, catastrophes, persecutions and pressures. There are students calling with deep hurt and sin; parents complaining that your ministry is not effective for their family; conflict with fellow staff members; and pressure from home. These are the days that you want to pack it up and become a greeter at Wal-Mart. Don't. Take the times of difficulty and let them be times of learning. Let them be times when you learn more about the issue that hurting student is facing. Let them be times when you learn what may actually be weaknesses you have in ministering to the families God has given you. Let them be times when you learn godly conflict resolution. Let them be times you learn how to better balance work and home.

Whatever you do --- DO NOT GIVE UP! The work you do in the lives of students is making an eternal impact. The enemy would love to see another warrior in the fight for this generation throw in the towel. Be strong. Glory in your weakness. God is not only using you to alter the future in the lives of students and the Kingdom, he is changing you. Our most difficult times are what God uses to make us better at what we do. They are the times that He uses to make us more like Him. We not only become better ministers, we become better Christians. Don't forget that in your work of helping others, God is at work in your life as well. When it seems like you can't take another day of the struggle, admit that you can't. Let Christ know that you need Him to work in and through you. Everyday admit that to Him. Focus on the long haul.

There is a Kingdom work that student ministers have the honor of accomplishing that cannot be overstated.  Press on. That annoying ninth grade boy can become the strong, godly leader in just a few years if you continue to love him, pray for him and invest in him. In a world where students are surrounded by the crushing weight of sin, you are a light of hope that there is something better. Be Jesus with skin on. Weakness is strength in the hands of Christ.

Friday, March 01, 2013

The World Is Smaller Than You Think

Jasper Speaks:

Each time I go to Ghana, God speaks to me in a new way. This past trip was no different. I must say that God has given me a heart for the people of this beautiful country. This was my third trip and as a result even people in the marketplace where we buy our souvenirs proclaimed me to be “Ghanaian”. It is amazing that God can interlace souls together in such a way. I challenge you to speak to anyone who has given their time to go and they will tell you that you leave a part of your heart in Africa when you come home from a mission trip there.

One of the ways God has spoken to me is through his reminder that the church is really one family. Sunday mornings at Trinity Baptist are very different from Sunday mornings at Parkway. The worship is louder. There are languages spoken from the pulpit that I do not understand.  There is a bodily movement (some would call this dancing) that would not be a regular occurrence on a Sunday here. Still, I cannot impress upon you enough how all the differences melt away and the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart in this far off land. There is a sense of unity. You know that you are praising the same savior. There is no doubt that the Lord of St. Louis is the Lord of Accra and that those around you are not strangers but family.

I believe moments like these are a foreshadowing of Heaven. These moments are a glimpse into eternity. We get a chance to experience what forever will be like. My favorite chapter of the Bible is Revelation 5. It speaks of a time in Heaven that looks like this. It says:
 And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy
 to take the scroll  and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

The world is smaller than we think. The Bride of Christ is being prepared in every nation. The glory that our teams experience worshiping with believers in other countries is a glory that will echo in eternity. I am praying that more men and women in our congregation will answer the call to leave the comforts of this land to experience God in another.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Five Years

Jasper Speaks:

Saturday was the fifth anniversary of my mother's death. In some ways it came without much fanfare. Missing my mother is something that I have grown accustom to. I don't like it but like a permanent bodily injury, the loss becomes part of who you are. 
This anniversary has got me thinking a lot about legacy. What am I leaving behind? What will I be remembered for? It is unlikely that I will write the great American novel, find a cure for cancer or pioneer life on Mars. The truth is, like most people, in three generations there will be few, if any, people who knew me personally. That can be a bleak concept. God's Word puts it this way:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. - James 4:13-14

It is true that we are only a small dot on the timeline of eternity and I think that calls us to one of two options. We can either give up and live life haphazardly and for ourselves, trying to get more things and live exciting lives. This is the advice of the world. After all, you only live once. 

Still, I want to choose the other option. I want to live a life that guarantees a legacy. My mother lived that kind of life. She invested in spiritual things. Having been born the daughter of Arkansas share croppers during the depression and spending her adult life married to an inner city pastor, my mother never had earthly goods. There were no expensive belongings to leave behind to her descendants. Still, she left a trust to us.

My mother's gift to us was a legacy of Christlike behavior. The influence of the Christian life she lived each and every day will far outlast any material thing she could have left to those coming after her. She loved the unlovable. She won hundreds of people to Christ in her lifetime. She discipled women and children in how to grow in their relationship with the Lord. She prayed fervently for people. This became a primary ministry in her life as she progressed in her illness and was not able to do as much physically as she once had. In the end, she left an eternal trust. The inheritance that I, as an  heir received, is one that will outlive my own life. In three generations, her name may not be on many lips but her impact will be resounding in many hearts.

That is what I would like for people to say of me. I realize that life is a vapor. We are here for but a moment of eternity. I have not collected many things in my life but I pray that I am speaking daily into the lives of others. I pray that the trust that I leave not only to my son but to all those with whom God has entrusted me, is one that reaches beyond today and speaks into the deepest hallows of eternity. I pray that all who come behind me find me, like my dear mother, to have been faithful. Our lives will not be measured by our own greatness but by the impact we make for Christ in eternity. Five years after my mother was "promoted to glory" her legacy is alive. I believe the fruit of what she did for Christ will last far more than even 500 years. Her's is an eternal legacy to which I am eternally indebted  I pray that someday others will be able to say the same of me. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back To Ghana

Jasper Speaks:

February 1-9, I will be returning with a new team to Ghana to minister with Trinity Baptist Church. We will be working to help the people of Nima, Accra, Ghana learn about hygiene and basic first aid. We would appreciate your prayers for us. Here is a list of how you can be praying.

Before the Trip:
Pray that we will be diligent in preparations . Pray that all monies need to provide for the trip will be received. Pray for team members to have confidence and not be nervous about the flights and trip.

During the Trip:

February 1 – Please pray for safe travel for the team to NYC and onto Accra. Pray for the families of team members as they begin their week without their loved ones.

February 2 – Please pray for a restful night’s sleep in Ghana as the team prepares for the week of service

February 3 – Pray for the team as they share their testimonies in Sunday School at Trinity Baptist Church and for Jasper who will preach. Also, pray for God to reveal Himself as the team prayer walks through Nima. Pray for the team’s preparations for the week.

February 4 through 8 - Pray for the team as they share hygiene habits in the morning sessions and basic first aid in the afternoon sessions. Also, pray as at the end of each day’s service, the team goes into Nima’s neighborhood’s distributing hygiene kits. Each day the gospel will be shared. Pray that hearts would be softened to the love of Christ.

February 7 – Pray for the team as they return to Trinity Baptist in the evening to minister to the young people of the church in a special worship service.

February 8 – Pray for safe travel from Accra to Amsterdam. Pray that customs would go smoothly. Pray for on time arrivals and departures as the team travels from Amsterdam to Detroit as well as safety in that flight.

February 9 – Pray for ease through customs as the team returns to the US in Detroit. Pray for safe and uneventful travel from Detroit to St. Louis. Pray that the team will get much need rest from their week of service. 

Team Members: Jasper Rains, Kendra Rains, Heather Bond, Aaron Ferguson, Mike Laws and Brad Thomspon

Thank you for your prayers.

Learning About God Through Adoption

Jasper Speaks:

Our church will be spending a weekend soon celebrating the sanctity of human life. As an adoptive parent, I know well the difference life can make. As I prepare for Kendra and I to share our story with our congregation, I recall the amazing path to parenthood we were blessed to take.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
Kendra and I wanted to be parents for a long time. God did not bless us in the traditional way. He had a better plan for us. In his time and in his way he taught us so much about his love by giving us our son through adoption.

Eight months before Jackson came to live with us; our adoption agency told us of a little boy who needed a home. He was a newborn at the time and had some health issues because he was a preemie He had a birth defect with his intestines involved and was in foster care with a former NICU nurse. We never saw a picture ort got to meet him. Every month or so we would get an update from our social worker saying they were trying to get an "adoption staffing" together for him. An adoption staffing is when all the interested parties in the baby's life come together a to review home studies and pick the family that will be the best for the baby.

On February 22, 2007, the final staffing was schedule to occur. We purposely did not tell anyone about the staffing in case it fell through. On the 22nd, we were very nervous all day as we awaited word on the outcome of the meeting. I prayed a lot that God would work things out in the best interest of the baby. About 3:30 that afternoon, we got an email from our licensing worker telling us they had decided to give the baby to another family. The main reason the other family was chosen was because they had a stay at home mom and at that time, Kendra was still in the workforce.

We were hurt. Our hearts were invested and we couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen. Every day for eight months, I had prayed for this baby. I asked God to care for him. I asked God to prosper him in his future. We were sullen. We spent that night in mourning over the loss of our child. It was a difficult time in our lives.  However, God had been teaching us a lesson for a few months that we were forced to put into action.

This was not long after the movie Facing The Giants was released. I had seen it many times and encouraged everyone I knew to watch it and take its message of God’s plan for our lives to heart.  Throughout that movie, the main character, Grant Taylor, says repeatedly, "We are going to praise God when we win and we are going to praise God when we lose". That night, after we found out the baby would be going to another family, Kendra and I prayed that prayer. Perhaps it was halfhearted at that moment but by the next morning, we began to live it. Though we were sad, we were praising God that He still had a great plan for our lives and the life of that baby. We were doing our best to rejoice in the situation. God had taught us that He is always in control and we began living that out. We moved on with our lives and found things to praise Him for, even though the child we wanted would have to wait to come into our lives.

Two weeks later, I opened an email from our adoption-licensing agent. She said that the family who had been chosen to take the baby had some issues and decided that they could not take him. Then she asked, "Are you still interested?" My heart skipped a beat and I immediately called Kendra. When I told her what the email said, she was as shocked as I was! We wrote back and said, "Absolutely we are still interested!" The baby's social worker was contacted and we missed church that night to meet with her.

We learned all about his background and saw a picture of him for the first time in that meeting. The next night, the social worker brought him to our home and  left us alone with him for an hour or so and we quickly agreed he was the one. Instantly in love, he came to live with us early the next week. The adoption was finalized in about six months.

Through the experience of giving us a beautiful baby boy we learned to praise God when winning and when losing. It is all part of his perfect plan. We learned so much about God and His power and love. We learned so much about trusting in His design for our future. Praising him in the dark times can be difficult but in our house we made a promise that we are going to do our best to rejoice when things do not work in the way we think they should. Every time we look into the face of our now 6 ½ year old boy, we are reminded of God’s grace and the power to praise him in all things. As an extra reminder of the film that God used to teach us this lesson we gave Jackson the middle name Grant after the character from the film. As he gets older I look forward to explaining that name choice and helping Jackson understand God’s perfect timing as well.