How to pray when there are no words…

“Dear God, 

Ok Holy Spirit…take over!



Sometimes we can’t adequately say what we want to say.  That’s where I have found myself recently.  “God, you know my heart and my mind…you know what I struggle with and my frustrations…Spirit speak for me now because I don’t have the words nor the energy to express them myself.”  Then I just sit there in silence knowing the Spirit is working…and I believe that’s ok.

So how do you pray when there are no words…you concede to the Spirit who is speaking for you.


Staying Creative in Student Ministry

If I am completely honest with you, ministry can be monotonous at some times.  The same can be said for weekly message preparation, but I don’t believe it always has to be.  I’m of the mind being created in the image of God means He shares certain attributes with us, and one of my favorite attributes of God is His creativity.  In essence we were created to be creative for His glory…I like that.

I have to keep this in mind when studying, preparing, and dreaming for messages or message series.  There’s a lot involved in prepping for these things but I love the fact that I can dream big dreams because that’s how we are designed.  My encouragement for student pastors would be to dream big when studying and developing a message or series.

Here are just a few helpful thoughts that have helped me along the way:

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GAIN INSPIRATION FROM OTHERS – There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being inspired by the works of others.  There is; however, everything wrong with stealing from others.  Some give full freedom to use whatever you want to, but that’s not a universal rule for everything you find online; but I do believe you can be inspired by someone else’s creativity.  Let’s be honest, Pinterest is a great resource.  If you’ve been avoiding Pinterest like the plague for fear of what men with mustaches might think of you, then it’s time to grow yourself a beard and join the movement.  Go take a gander at my boards if you feel the urge.

READ SOMETHING THAT STIRS YOUR IMAGINATION – History, a biography, fiction…what stirs your imagination?  I like to sit down next to a fire and read some good fiction.  Right now I’m reading The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson, but I also enjoy anything by Ted Dekker.  It’s fun to get lost in a world that is not your own while living the life of another, even if it is only for a glimmer of time.  The sole purpose of this is to remain creative.  I’m good with reading books that are helpful for your line of work, but that can sometimes get stale and stunt creativity.  It’s when I’m imagining that I find myself being more creative, so enjoy some books that bring about something new.

LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC – Sometimes it’s a good thing to try something new.  I for one get a little tired of listening to the same thing all the time…unless it’s overwhelmingly good.  I’m just saying try it, if you don’t like it move on, but sooner or later you will find someone else to add to your playlist.  I really like listening to strong song writers like Ben Rector, Andrew Peterson, Aaron Ivey, and NEEDTOBREATHE, but sometimes I branch out and find something different that I don’t normally listen to like Justin Timberlake (I’m late to the party) or Bruno Mars (amazing voice, lyrics need a little toning down).  I would also suggest getting Spotify and listening to some of their suggestions (then going out and buying some of that artists music).  Spotify can be a great resource for trying something new.

HAVE A CHANGE OF SCENERY – Get up and get out of the office!!  If you’re always looking at the same wall, same art, same desk, same books, it’s no wonder you’re creative genius is stumped!  Get up and go somewhere.  A park, a local coffee shop, your back yard, a movie (this serves two purposes); I don’t care where, but get up and go!  You’re office can be a lonely, boring place sometimes…make it interesting!

CARRY AN “IDEA” NOTEBOOK WITH YOU – You never know when you’re going to be hit with the greatest idea ever!  We all have one of those ideas that would be revolutionary, but we forget it within 10 minutes never to be thought of again.  Sooner or later I’ll have one too, but I’m gonna write it down.  I also like to draw out designs and write down quotes that would go great in a message or a series.  I never know when I’m going to be inspired, so it’s good to have something to record that inspiration in.

KEEP THE GOSPEL AT THE CENTER – Don’t lose sight of this one.  You can be the most creative person in the world (and you may even see fruit from your creativity), but it’s in vein if you forget the Gospel.  Are you trying to show others how creative you are or are you showing others how creative God is!  Let’s face it, there’s nothing more out of the box then God becoming flesh to save His creation and bring them back to Him.  That’s the story we are telling…nothing more, nothing less, so do not believe the lie that you can make it more creative and pretty!

Stop saying you’re not creative!  You’re the most creative person I know, so use it for God’s glory!  Maybe these will help you…maybe they won’t…but at least give it a try!  You have been created in the image of God…be creative!


What helps you be creative?

Gotcha Day

1 year later

A year ago today we walked into a very unfamiliar orphanage and looked into the eyes of two little girls who’s faces we had been staring at for what seemed like ages and who we couldn’t wait to wrap our arms around.  It’s been a full year…a year of hard fought battles and fits of laughter…a year of what we thought were unnecessary tears, but ultimately they were tears of hurts being healed and memories being mourned.  It’s also been a year of sisters learning to be sisters and daughters learning to be daughters.  I think it’s safe to assume that is a day we will never forget.

We’ve recently asked them what they remember about that day.  Sifa willingly offered that my pants had a lot of pockets and Jen had awesome hair.  Yeye simply said she didn’t like me.  I remember looking at their feet and holding their hands, they remember our style and my facial hair…go figure.  But they also said they were’t scared.  WHAT?!?  They weren’t scared to leave what they had known as they held our hands and walked out of the gate into a world they did not know.  Maybe they surrendered to the thought that this is simply another day in what has been all too normal.

We’re still learning how to be a family of six.  Jen has recently accepted a position at one of our awesome high schools, so we are learning how to be a family of six with two working parents and four girls in school.  Needless to say, it’s been a crazy adjustment, but we love watching the Spirit gracefully thread himself through every fabric of our lives drawing us closer to Him and each other.

Here are some things we have learned over the past year:

  • You can read here what we had learned in the first six months.
  • It’s harder than we thought it would be…but so was having twins.
  • First grade is hard for a child from the Congo who was in Kindergarten for five months.  It’s also hard on her parents…But God is good!
  • Yeye LOVES to sing songs that make no sense.
  • Sifa is AWESOME at soccer, and when I say awesome, I mean so awesome that I see her potential and I become one of those dads that no one likes…so much so I’ve heard other coaches complain that she’s too rough!  My response, “There’s only one way to play in the Congo!”  Let’s face it…she’s my only hope for an athlete.
  • All four of our girls are hilarious.
  • Van rides over 5 minutes are not fun.  (Fighting, singing loudly, asking questions, throwing things)
  • Sifa & Yeye still remind us the healing process is not over.

Others have traveled this road, but I do believe we all have similar feelings and thoughts.  Jen Hatmaker has a great blog that expresses our thoughts exactly: The Truth About Adoption: One Year Later.

It has been a GREAT year, but that doesn’t meant it hasn’t been a difficult year; so we are extremely grateful for the people that God has put in our lives for such a time as this.  All of this has been so new but with a touch of familiarity as it defines our relationship with a loving Father who adopts His children into a forever relationship with Him.

Again…thanks for walking with us, hurting with us, crying with us, and serving with us!

Jarred and Jen


4 Thoughts on Preparing a Message for Students…

As a student pastor, there are a few things I run through when prepping for Wednesday nights or the occasional Sunday morning.  I’m sure every student pastor has a list of some kind, but I would like to share a few thoughts that help me when I’m preparing a message for students…so here goes.


I want you to feel the weight of that statement.  I think we might have the tendency to read that and think, but I want them to hear from Jesus.  Well that’s extremely super Christian of you and point well taken, but a majority of your students are not showing up on Wednesdays and Sundays to hear from Jesus…they simply don’t think that way.  They’re there to hear the music, play the games, hear what you have to say, socialize with their “bros in bro tanks,” or hear about what’s coming up on the calendar.

I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth…”follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  Your students are coming to hear you…your students care about what you have to say…therefore, you must follow the example of Christ and speak the words of Christ so they can follow you as you follow Him.  If you are with Christ, then your students will hear from Christ…


Allow me to preface this by saying this is probably my favorite part of preparing messages or a message series.  I love designing logos and setting up rooms to match, but I also love finding scripture and allowing that to fuel my creativity.  We can spend an unnecessary amount of time discussing the pros and cons of topical or expository preaching, but here’s what I believe…the Gospel knows no bounds.  Whichever way you decide to go with a message or series, pick a direction and go with it.  Stage design, lighting, logos, handouts, worship set…you can be as creative as you want with these things, or you can let someone else be creative for you.

Warning…you can be uber creative and still miss the importance of the Gospel.  Be creative, but keep Christ at the center.


Fight the urge to be someone you are not in order to gain the ear of the listener.  BE AUTHENTIC.  Students can spot a fake, so while you’re preparing your message, make sure it is factual and make sure it is coming from an authentic heart.

Refer to my first point…they want to hear you!  So if they are hearing someone who is trying to be someone they are not, they will either become fake with you or they will right you off.


Evernote, Penulitmate, or a journal, it makes no difference, but you should write out what it is you are trying to say.  I understand this isn’t for everyone, but I believe this allows you to flesh out ideas as you find the single point you want your students to walk away with (FYI…if your students aren’t walking away with a single point, then you are missing it).  I encourage you to write out what you want to say word-for-word.

Once you’ve done this…review…outline…teach!

Yes…it takes time to write or type it all out, but the rewards are great.


* Again, these are just thoughts that help me as I prepare.  I don’t always get them right and sometimes I ignore them (to my own detriment), but hopefully you can find some use for these as I have.




It’s been six months…


…since we walked trough the metal gate into the orphanage that housed our daughters. We can still smell the smells…We can still hear the sounds…We can still see building where our daughters lived. But with all these memories, we can still see those smiles that could conquer darkness. Six months ago today, we arrived in Knoxville tired and smelly, but a family of six (seven, if you ask Meredith…the family dog, Cookie, has to be included in everything).

The past six months have been an unbelievable adventure. Many of the paths we were well aware of, but some were sharp turns like you see in Temple Run. We would like to say we were well prepared for all the tears, and all the meltdowns…we would like to say we were anticipating the emotional affect it would have on our two oldest girls. I (Jarred) got my orienteering merit badge in scouts, but this was a little harder to navigate.

With all that said, through the meltdowns and the laughs, we find ourselves alive and excited about all that God has done and will continue to do in our family.

What are some of the things we learned:

  • We have given in to Yeye’s continual demands to be called Yeye and not Marie. Yep, she’s gonna be one of “those people” who go by a name that’s not on their birth certificate.
  • Yeye and Sifa are like any other child (or 35 year old dad)…they hate shots.
  • They fit into our family perfectly…all four of our daughters know how to nitpick
  • Yeye’s favorite word to say to me (Jarred) is “no”…here favorite word to say to Jen is “yes”.
  • Yeye still can’t walk anywhere without dancing.
  • Sifa already has that exasperated 16 year old attitude when you ask her how her day was.
  • Every couple of weeks, someone stops us and asks us if we need help with their hair (still not sure why).
  • They LOVE to sing…loudly.
  • They got groove (clearly they got this from their dad).
  • Meredith and Mikayla have assumed the older sister role that Sifa thought was hers…it took some time, but believe me, M&M have established their authority. And they are really good at being big sisters.
  • Yeye no longer likes chocolate…not sure how that happened, but this makes dessert time a little more difficult.
  • Sifa knows how to roll her eyes…needless to say this is a habit we are trying to break now.
  • Sifa is about to finish Kindergarten…she has come a long way.

Their English is pretty good, but there have been a few things lost in translation. Sifa often tells me, “Daddy, you stink good” (with two thumbs up), and Yeye can be heard frequently letting us know that her “mouth is hungry.”

These are just a few of the things we’ve learned about our daughters and our family. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are grateful for the call that God has laid on our hearts and led us to these two wonderful little girls. They know they are loved…they know they have a home…they know they are wanted…they know they are family.

As they’ve learned English, we have seen them find the satisfaction of being heard and being understood. That was difficult for them in the beginning, and probably the root of most of the melt downs, but when they are listened to and loved, they grow more and more comfortable with this family of which they are now a part.

Thank you for loving our daughters enough to follow our story.

Jarred & Jen

Stop saying “Jesus Loves You”…


…before you label me a heretic or burn my likeness in effigy (you’re gonna need a XXL dummy for that so it’s not really worth your time or money), allow me to explain myself. There is truth in the statement, “Jesus loves you.”  We can’t argue Jesus proved his dedication to our salvation on a cross 2,000 years ago, and I for one am extremely grateful for his sacrifice and atonement.  I understand what he did for me, but a world in which the majority doesn’t really believe in the truth found in Jesus, it’s hard for them to grasp the concept, “Jesus loves you.”  Why would they want to grasp it in the first place?

I can’t really blame them.  Many in our westernized culture only see Christians as biggots, racists, and anti-Obama.  The faces and voices of the Christian faith are those who scream the loudest; and for many, they don’t want to hear our screams followed by our soft and often scripted proclamation, “Jesus loves you.”

“Does he love us, because it sure doesn’t seem like you do.”

Re-worded and used in the right context, this could be a very effective “Jesus-Juke.”  But let’s imagine for just a moment this truly might be the the thoughts of those who don’t believe (or don’t care to believe) in Jesus.  It’s very possible.

But to not say “Jesus loves you” goes against every fiber of the Southern Gospel singin’ womb I was created in.  Let’s face it, it was a solid way to end your answering machine message for those who missed catching you on the phone.

“Hello, I’m sorry I missed your call.  I was either away from the phone or I saw your number on the caller ID and avoided your call.  Please leave your name and number and I may or may not call you back ASAP…and don’t forget…JESUS LOVES YOU.” 

It has a ring of nostalgia to it, doesn’t it?  I think at some point or time, you or your family probably had some form of this message on your answering machine.

I don’t really ever remember Jesus telling his followers to go out and tell everyone, “JESUS LOVES YOU…go ahead Peter, say it…tell ’em I love ’em.”  However, He did tell them how others would know they were followers of Jesus…by their love for one another.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

They will know you are a follower of Jesus by the way you love.  What a novel idea…genuinely love people.  Now does this mean we are to trash our theology and run with love and acceptance of the world around us…no, it simply means, people need to know that you love them before they will even care about whether or not someone who lived 2,000 years ago loved them.  How is anyone going to understand Jesus’ love, if we who follow him don’t love like he has loved us.

Do we abandon the phrase “Jesus loves you?”  No, I don’t think so…but in many instances, they want to know that you love them, then they may sit and listen as you tell them how Jesus loved them first.

What if you went out today and told others that you loved them?  What would happen?  You may get some weird looks, but it’s a very disarming phrase.  In verse 34 Jesus says that we are to love others because He loved us first…and he followed that up with telling the disciples to love each other.  Jesus taught us how to love others so they can see him in our love for them.

If we love like Jesus loves, we don’t even have to say “Jesus loves you,” because they would’ve already seen it in the way we love.

By the way…I love you!!


How can we love others like Christ loves us?

The struggle…


…There is a struggle between words and thoughts on a day like today.  The struggle comes, mostly due to the fact words cannot truly express my thoughts so I sit in silence and struggle with emotions that run wild, because I simply do not know what to say.  It’s not like people were waiting around for me to say something profound to bring resolution to their struggling minds, but I was…I was waiting for my own words of truth and comfort.

I was in my car holding a dog in my lap as my family was driving around Knoxville running an errand.  As has become the norm, Twitter broke the news.  Two bombs had just exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  My mind immediately rushed to a beautiful day in September 2001.  I can guarantee I’m not the only one who thought the same.  Life as we know it changed that day and my mind found itself on the edge of thinking the same thing.  Is this another one of those America altering events.

Without a doubt many are broken for life that was lost and the carnage of so many injured.  We seek answers and maybe restitution.  Whomever is responsible for disaster deserves disaster.  But how do I respond as a follower of Christ?  How do I love?  How do I help?  What can I do?  Only one thing comes to mind…Love God deeply.  It’s only in that love I find hope for those affected by this tragedy.  It’s in His grace I find hope for us all.

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. – Ps. 3:5-6

I don’t have answers (outside of the fact we are broken and in need of restoration); therefore, I cannot lean on the things I understand, but I can trust in the Lord.  This is the answer I need…this is the rest for my struggle.