Jason Jones

Jason Jones’ Testimony

By Jason Jones, as told by Liz Charlotte Grant. Jason Jones is an Elder and the Pastor of Care and Counseling at Park Church.

Youth Group Christianity

My parents would have said they were Christians while I was growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, but really, we were cultural Christians. There were three things in our house that we didn’t talk about: we didn’t talk about religion, politics, or morals. Somebody told me the other day that their family were CEO Christians—Christmas and Easter Only. We would have been CEN—Christmas and Easter Neither. I was left to make up my own opinions on sex, alcohol, politics, and God, so much so that I was nearly 30 before I learned the difference between a Democrat and Republican.

But I guess I was always curious about God. So, during my freshman year of high school when a friend invited me to go to church with his family, I went. I spent the night at his house, and then the next morning, we went to church, which I didn’t get a bunch out of. But then I went to youth group with him that night and it was the youth group that really kept me going back.

At the time, I was a pudgy kid and I had a flat top and glasses. I didn’t get picked on, but I don’t recall having a lot of friends. So, going to a youth group full of kids that invited me in and treated me like a friend from that first time that I walked in—that made a huge impression on me.

Questioning His Beliefs

I went to youth group for years before I really started to pay attention to what was being preached. What was being preached was this mixed-bag of, “You’re pretty much a good person, and you should just live life and enjoy it and try to do good things, whatever those might be.”

Throughout high school, I struggled with alcohol a fair amount, plus marijuana use and sexual relationships. That meant that by the time I noticed my church’s theology, I already knew that I wasn’t a good person; I could feel it. I knew that something in me wasn’t right, that I wasn’t living how I was supposed to.

I went through seasons of not going to church, starting at the end of high school and into college. I’d say to myself, “This doesn’t seem real.” Maybe it was cynicism in me. I was ready to walk away from Christianity. Now, I wasn’t opening God’s word to ask, “What does God Himself have to say?” I was just listening to the “good person” teaching and assumed, “This must be what Christianity is,” which didn’t seem to be true. So, I’d go back and forth wondering whether Christianity was right for me or not.

But I kept coming back because I felt like I belonged at youth group because kids were treating me well. By the end of high school, I had actually moved up into leading youth group myself, though I had no real sense of what Christianity—the Gospel—really was. I don’t know why; maybe they just needed warm bodies. Either way, I stayed involved off and on.

God’s Pursuit

The Holy Spirit was already working on my heart, even in my doubting. That’s probably why I believe in predestination, actually, because I can see the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, even before I understood the Gospel. I had a couple of experiences I couldn’t explain until later on.

The first happened during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I went on a mission trip with my youth group to Kansas City, just across the state, and the pastor of the church in Kansas City gave this message that made an impression on me. He was a large dude with a booming voice and he was an ex-gang member.

He preached from Matthew, where Jesus says, “Some of you on my right hand will come and I’ll say to you, ‘You came to see me in prison, and when I needed food and shelter, you gave me food and you sheltered me’.” And those people will say, “Lord, when did we do that?” And then Jesus will say, “As you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” And to those on his left Jesus will say basically the opposite: “You didn’t do it to the least of me, so you didn’t do it to me, so I don’t know you.” (From Matthew 25:35–45)

The pastor read that passage and then asked us, “What is this passage talking about?” No hands go up. Finally, I raised my hand, ‘cause it just resonated with me—I knew exactly what the passage meant. I said, “Part of loving God is loving other people.” And he said, “That’s exactly right.” That message has stayed with me to this day.

The other experience I can point to and say, God was working in me, was probably three years after that, on another youth group mission trip. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a moment where you tangibly feel the Holy Spirit’s presence, even if you can’t explain it then, but you look back and go, “Yeah, that was definitely the Holy Spirit.”

That’s what happened: I was on this mission trip, just having a really rough time. I was struggling with relationships on the trip and also the question, “What do I really believe?” I tend to be fairly extroverted, but I remember thinking, “I just want to be by myself.” So, I went off to journal in this room in the church where we were serving. You might picture a fellowship hall, but more comfortable, with armchairs everywhere.

And I started journaling—and I’m not really a journal-er—but as I wrote, God met me in that room. Probably the best way to describe it was like a warm and assuring presence. Like saying, “I love you, I’m here with you.” What does it mean to have a personal relationship with God? I’d say that was probably one of my first experiences of a personal encounter from a loving, Father God. As it turned out, I wasn’t actually by myself at all.

Salvation

I met Brian Brown through my ex-girlfriend at the time (now wife) Elizabeth, when he was engaged to Elizabeth’s sister. I was around 21 and had quit college; she and Brian went to college together and were home for that summer. Brian and I really hit it off. We led youth group together that summer, and that fall I followed him to Chicago, lived with him in his apartment, and worked at Sports Authority while he finished college.

When I met Brian, I was ready to walk away from Christianity. And then God brought someone into my life who sat with me and opened up God’s Word with me to see, “What does God Himself have to say about who He is and who I am, as one of His creatures? What should be my response to Him?”

We started walking through the beginning of Romans together, spending a lot of time in Romans 3. Paul quotes one of the Psalms: “No one is righteous, no not one; …no one does good” (Romans 3:10–12). It really helped me understand that everybody is on the same playing field before God; there’s no Christian out there who’s mostly good. And Christianity isn’t “you be perfect,” which is what my youth group had implicitly taught.

Then I remember Romans 3:21 being really key. If you get through where Paul has already captured everybody in the bucket of “no one is righteous,” then you can get the “but now” of Romans: “Now the love of God is made manifest apart from the law in Jesus Christ.” Studying that, God really opened my eyes to the good news; to the Gospel. I understood that we were all on the same playing field, and while I still couldn’t do anything about that, something had been done for me through Christ. It felt refreshing.

A Changed Person

That was my salvation moment. But even so, nothing really changed drastically after that beyond thinking, “Something is different about what I believe, so what does that mean?” The truth didn’t have an immediate effect on my behavior. Some people have that immediate transformation—their life is changed, they see everything else differently. For me, it felt like more of a slow marination.

We call that process “sanctification.” The initial “aha” was refreshing, and then it worked itself out over a several-year period. Actually, it’s still working itself out as I’m 39, and that experience probably happened when I was—I don’t know—20 or 21.

What did change, though, was a perception that I was loved. Before the Gospel changed my behavior, before I got to, “Okay, what does obedience look like?”, I understood that I was loved and accepted. I don’t think I’d ever felt that before.

I was an emotional kid growing up, so my dad didn’t know exactly what to do with me. He would be harsh or come down strong on me, and I would cry or break down; I was just different from him. I don’t think I could have verbalized it, but I didn’t feel accepted by my dad—or by God, because how can you be accepted by someone you don’t know? And I didn’t really know God. But right away, from the very early times of my salvation, I felt the tangibility of God’s love for me.

Called to Vocational Ministry

Elizabeth and I moved to Denver in 2008 to help Brian plant Park Church. Then, in 2012, I became a lay elder. Park paid for elders to take classes, so I signed up for a counseling course—and I loved it. I kept taking more counseling classes. At the same time, a lady in the church had been telling me since we planted the church, have you ever thought about becoming a counselor? She saw something in me that I didn’t see.

Then in 2014, I started feeling this…I guess you’d call it a “call.” But I started wondering, “What would it look like to do this on-staff at Park?” I felt the Lord drawing my heart toward counseling. I started to see some of the ways that I was gifted and how that could help a church body, and I felt the sense of “I’d really like to do this at Park” continuing to grow.

By the beginning of 2015, after Elizabeth and I had talked and prayed about it, we came to the elders to tell them what was going on. I said, “What do you think about this?” And they agreed. Then, a position opened on staff and they invited me to join the staff team in May 2015. So, I’d say going into vocational ministry at Park was partly the Lord taking my heart in a direction, then bringing people alongside to say “yes,” and then having the opportunity open up.

How can we be praying for you and your family?

Elder-ing is tiring. It’s great, and I love it, but ministering to people can be draining. You tend to hear the big joys that happen in the church, but you also tend to hear a lot more of the darkness, a lot more of the underbelly of the church, so to speak—where things are really at in people’s lives. The tendency is to find ways to sustain yourself apart from the Lord, to turn to other things in a sinful way. It’s comfort, Netflix, alcohol. Honestly, if I tend toward one, it’s, “I’ll just have two old fashioneds tonight.” You can pray that the Lord would sustain us as elders and that we’d turn to God to sustain us instead of turning to comfort. Pray that I turn to the right thing.

Nikki Rasmussen

Nikki’s Faith Journey

By Nikki Rasmussen, as told by Liz Grant

Growing up with Belief

My parents tried to instill general Christian morals in me and my brother as we grew up: we said prayers before bedtime, we prayed before dinner, and my dad sang us “Amazing Grace.”

When our first family pet died—a bird named Gracie—I was only five. Apparently, I was devastated over this little bird. And the morning after hearing Gracie had died, my mom found a note under my pillow, asking God to take care of Gracie. I had put it under my pillow just like God was the tooth fairy or something, which just shows that, as a kid, I accepted that God was real; I never questioned it.

Walking Away

I grew up in Boulder. You find a lot of people there who have been seriously hurt by the church in one way or another, and by middle and high school, I had made friends with people who were very, very against organized religion. I started hearing all these stories from people who had been hurt by Christianity. At the time I didn’t understand that those people were being hurt by other people, not necessarily Jesus. So, my response was to shut that part of me down.

Looking back, I realize that I continued seeking faith in my life even during that season. I explored different religions and philosophies as a teenager, getting really into Buddhism in high school. I even read about Hinduism and Wicca! I kept seeking something to fill that gap, but nothing really stuck.

Things Fall Apart

I met my ex-husband at 17, and we started dating when I was 18; he was 25. We started a business together and got married in 2015. From the beginning, our relationship was toxic. He’d already had his life established, and I was this little 18-year-old still figuring life out. I just pieced myself into his life. But he’d always had unhealthy relationships with women and alcohol, and that continued after we were married.

Meanwhile, I tried to change myself to become what he wanted. I was always seeking attention, even from other men, just because I wanted anything I could get. I wanted to make myself worthy of my ex’s attention.

Yet everything that I’d poured my life into—five years of my life—was slipping through my fingers, and I began to struggle with depression. I was so unhappy and ashamed about who I’d become. I couldn’t even keep sleeping pills in the house, just in case I’d want to overdose when I was in a worse state of mind, and I didn’t want that temptation. I just wasn’t myself; I wasn’t who I wanted to be; I wasn’t me anymore. And you can only pretend to be someone else for so long before it starts chipping away at you.

I didn’t have anyone to turn to: my ex and I worked together and I didn’t have any friends, really, because after I left high school, we started dating right away, and I was so focused on him that I didn’t make friends during college. All my friends were his friends. I mean, I had my family, but as things got worse, I just became more alienated from them. I didn’t want to admit that things were bad. So, it was a hard couple of years before we were divorced in 2017.

Meeting Jesus

Ironically, my ex was actually raised Christian, so I first engaged with Christianity again through his parents. Though he wasn’t a Christian anymore (he’d gone way left-field), they were Christians. So my in-laws would talk with me about Christianity. They’d pray for me, and they even gave me my first Bible for Christmas. And I was still seeking something. So, I was like, okay, let’s just learn more about this, even if I’m just reading it as literature (since it’s an incredible work of art). I convinced myself that I should read the Bible.

As I became more open to God, one of my ex’s friends invited my ex to church. And then my ex invited me to go with him and his friend to an Easter service. I said, “Yeah, you know what, I don’t know why, but I want to go.”

But walking in the church that Sunday—it was so terrifying. Oh, god, talk about a black sheep! Where I was in my life, the person I’d become, was such a far-reach from the person I wanted to be. I had made so many moral sacrifices in order to make myself what I thought other people or my ex wanted from me. So, really, I felt that I didn’t belong at that church because of my past. As soon as I walked through the door, I felt like everyone knew that I wasn’t a believer, that I was an outsider, that I wasn’t one of them, and it was absolutely terrifying.

The service that day was mostly a testimony, and it hit so close to home. A man got up in front of everyone and told his story. He had been your typical 70’s hippie: sex, drugs, rock and roll, all of that. He had gone way off the map and eventually became an addict.

Then, when he was at rock bottom, he reached out to his dad and asked him to meet him at a bank to help him get a loan to restart his life. At that point, he was living out of his car, and he looked homeless. The man hadn’t seen his dad in years because his life choices had alienated him from his family. And he remembers the moment when his dad walked in the door and glanced at him with disgust, wondering, “Who is this man, and what is he doing here?” And then his father recognized him and the look on his face changed to one of love, like, “That’s my son, and I’m so happy to see him.” His dad rushed over and hugged him.

The man made the connection to God: that God sees us as his children, and it doesn’t matter where we’re at in life, God wants us with him. Listening to this when I was at the end of my relationship, when I was so ashamed of the person I’d become—his story really hit me.

Then the pastor invited everyone to raise a hand if you were ready to come to Jesus, and I wanted to, but I still felt too scared and embarrassed. I’d spent my whole life fighting what I thought Christianity was because the church had hurt so many people I loved, and I was scared of how my ex would respond to me. But something had shifted inside of me. I felt Jesus’s invitation, as if he had taken my hand and was saying to me, “Hey, it’s time.”

Surrendering

The summer of 2017, after that Easter service, my ex- and I decided to split, and right at the end of our relationship, I actually met someone, a friend of a friend, who goes to Park. And I was able to trust him and open up with him about where I was at with my faith.

I started thinking through all the things that had happened with my friends and learning more about Christianity and about Jesus. I also started praying and reading the Bible. I realized that everything that had happened—all the bad stuff that I’d heard about from friends—that wasn’t Jesus, that wasn’t God. That was people hurting people.

Then, finally, I came to church with my friend of a friend, and that hole that I’d been feeling, that need for faith, that need for God, which I hadn’t even realized I had inside of me, it just it felt right. I felt complete.

Continued Struggle

That said, I still struggle. The lifestyle I was living before I found Jesus was so against everything that we’re taught as Christians. So, change in my life has been gradual—I have had to make intentional decisions to change because some sins had become so habitual for me.

Sometimes it does feel constricting to follow God. Like, for example, I definitely struggle a lot knowing whether I can even get remarried after being divorced. Would that be considered adultery? I don’t know. But for the most part, following God’s commands has been freeing because it has meant stepping away from who I was before.

Plus, as I learn more about being a Christian and read the Bible and learn more about what God wants, it just makes sense to me. I haven’t felt that Christianity is like, “I have to stop sinning.” Instead, it’s been like, “the more I learn and the closer I come to God, the more natural it is to follow Him.”

I still have feelings of inadequacy—like I don’t deserve God’s love and grace. But the reunion between the former hippie and his father reminds me that God is my father first and foremost, and no matter what I do, no matter what choices I make, no matter who I become, my dad will always love me.

So even when I don’t feel that I belong, even when I feel like I’ve gone too far or that I’ve made too many poor choices, or I just don’t feel worthy, I do belong with Him—we all do. We are God’s sons and daughters. And that’s all that matters. We do belong.

Getting Baptized

For me, baptism was the next step. The imagery of being washed clean from who you were, that death and rebirth, was something that I tremendously needed to start this new chapter in my life. I needed that closure from my past life—to be reborn into this new life—and I wanted to be fully committed to Jesus.

Still, I needed a push to take the step—that came from a Christian friend of mine from high school. I hadn’t spoken with her since we graduated. As I was making the decision to get baptized, she posted a photo with Jeremiah 29:11 onto social media: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” (NIV). I needed that, so I reached out to her to say thank you. She told me, “It’s so funny that you messaged me—I was thinking of you when I posted that.” If that’s not providential, I don’t know what it is!

God’s plan really is good. It’s weird to say, but this painful path I’ve walked over the past five years is what pushed me toward God. And looking back, would I give that up? Would I change that, but then lose relationship with Jesus? I absolutely wouldn’t. Of course, it’s unfortunate that my marriage and divorce was my path to Jesus, but if that’s what it took, it was worth it.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that it’s okay to let go of control. After five years of trying so desperately to control everything, I could finally say, “This is Your will; Your will be done. Lead me down whatever path You have for me.” I’m where I’m meant to be.

Casey Petterson

A Struggle with Chronic Illness

By Casey Petterson, as told by Liz Grant

The Beginnings of Chronic Illness

I started to have stomach issues five years ago. I thought, “Oh, I’ll just stop eating dairy,” like maybe it was an allergy. That seemed to help for a while. Then, a year later, I moved to Colorado and many life factors were difficult, and I noticed that my stomach stuff became an issue again. I would always feel a pressure in my lower abdomen. I wondered if my pain was caused by anxiety, and I even took anxiety meds, but that didn’t help. I started to realize, this is every week that I feel bad.

That’s when I tried everything: diets, colonoscopies, I went the endometriosis route—had surgery for that a couple times. All the supplements, all the heavy metal detoxes. I even thought, maybe it’s bees wax in my Burt’s bees, so I stopped using that. But then you go that far and literally anything could be the cause—like something in my house—and that will drive you insane, which makes you more anxious, which causes more stomach aches. At this point, I’ve tried everything that I, my doctors, or anyone else can think of, and still I have no answers.

What It’s Like to Live with Chronic Pain

Now I’m always in pain; I haven’t seen any real change in symptoms in five years. I can feel fatigue, drowsiness, stomach pain, digestive pain…How I feel just depends on the day. I plan when I eat, how I eat, when I’ll sleep, when I’ll rest, when I’ll work out, and even if I do plan everything out, I’m still going to struggle. Even resting doesn’t solve it—though I wish my body would take a rest day every once in a while.

What gets me through my days is lots of prayer. Of course, I’m definitely in a better headspace when I feel better, and then it’s easier for me to talk to God; I might pray, “Give me strength.” But when I’m not feeling well, my prayers are just, “I can’t handle this anymore. Can you do something?”

The last thing I want to do when I don’t feel good is to be with other people—like thinking of going to Gospel Community group on a Thursday night when I just don’t feel good, and I’m in a bad mood and being a jerk to my husband John, and I need time to myself—that’s when I need to get out of myself. Once I’m around other people I can focus on their lives, and it can sometimes bring me out of the emotional pit. (Though sometimes being around people can be worse.)

Asking God for Healing

Once when I was at this conference, a girl I’d just met was standing next to me, and during worship, she looked over and asked, “Do you need prayer for healing?” I said, “Yeah, I do,” and so she prayed for me. God didn’t heal me then, but to have a stranger turn to me, having no idea what I was going through, and ask to pray for me—that made me feel like God was saying, “I see you.”

A few times since then, people have prayed over me and I’ve felt hopeful. And then it’s the next day and I’m still not healed. That’s when you ask yourself, okay, what was that about? That can be really hard. But I also know that every prayer will be answered, even if it’s not this side of heaven. My physical body is wasting away—everybody’s is. It’s never going to be perfect, not even if I am healed.

For the Person Walking through Chronic Illness

Pick running buddies: people you’re close to that you can be honest with, with whom you can share the depth of what you’re experiencing. These are the people who go to war with you, for your heart, who you can text and say, “Hey, I’m really struggling today—yes, I don’t feel good, but also I’m really struggling emotionally.” Some of those people might be folks who are also suffering.

Listening to or reading stories of struggle also really helps me to remember that there are so many other people going through the same thing as me. I even have a “when it hurts” playlist—it can be powerful to listen to truth in music for me.

For the Supporters of the Person with Chronic Illness

I have learned how I want to be approached as a suffering person, so that’s made me more aware of how to approach people who are suffering. It just drives me crazy sometimes… I’ll have a dentist appointment scheduled, and someone will say to me, “Well, maybe that dentist will have all the answers for why you’re feeling bad.” And I want to say, “No, it’s only a dentist appointment. It has nothing to do with how my stomach feels.” Or maybe they’ll say, “Well, at least you have your husband.” Or they’ll come with a list of all the ways to fix what I’m going through, asking me, “Have you tried…?”

That can feel like people are dismissing my pain—like they feel uncomfortable that there are no answers for me, and they want to fix their own discomfort somehow. It can even be hard for me to stay in the discomfort sometimes if someone asks, “How are you feeling?” Even if the true answer is “Still not good,” I might want to add a “but…” Of course, fostering a heart of gratitude will help me, but I don’t need other people to find the bright side for me. Instead, I need a friend that can rest in the “this sucks” with me.

A Theology of Suffering

I believe God wants to heal me, but if He really wanted to heal me now, He would have—but He hasn’t. I don’t want this to be my story, but it is. And it’s important to rest in the “grey,” because that’s what most of life is. Everybody you come across is going to be suffering in some capacity, and we all have to learn to live fully in our suffering, even when we don’t understand why it’s happening to us.

Our life isn’t supposed to be comfortable; you weren’t called to live a comfortable life. Everyone knows that, but I think we all want that happy, healthy life. God has promised to be with us, but He didn’t promise to give us all the answers, or to heal us always, or to make us comfortable; He just promised that He would never leave or forsake us. So as people who are called to live like Jesus, that’s what we’re called to do, too, for each other—to be with people. I guess that’s something that I’m still learning about God. God is not outside of the pain, He’s bearing it with me.