Friday, December 07, 2012


Tradition

Jasper Speaks:

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6

Most families have some “sacred traditions”. These are things in our family history that make us unique. They are our attempt to instill memories and to pass from one generation to the next, the “emotional DNA” of who we are. Traditions can have a spiritual impact as well.

In my home growing up, as in most, Christmas brought with it great excitement.  We struggled financially quite a bit but Christmas was something my mother always tried to make special. We may not have had the latest toys or gadgets but the time of opening presents was no less exhilarating for us.  One of our traditions was that we would have our family meal and celebration on Christmas Eve. This was the time that we all gathered for good food, good conversation and a time of appreciation for one another.

By ten o’clock on Christmas Eve, we children had to be in bed. We would lay awake anxiously awaiting “Santa’s arrival”. It seemed he chose our house to begin his journey  every year, at about 12:15 AM or so, my mother or father would knock on our doors to wake us up declaring that St. Nick had been by and left us this year’s treasures. We would rush to the living room to see our brightly lit tree, now surrounded by beautifully wrapped presents, many with my name on them.

However, my mother was a stickler for some things. We could not rush to the presents and tear off paper immediately. Each year we would sit together and reflect on the true reason for our celebration. We would sing Christmas carols that reminded us that the God of the universe had come to be one of us. Then after singing several of our favorites, my father opened his Bible and read to us from Luke 2. We would listen as Scripture told of the census that took Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the angels proclaiming the “good news of great joy”. He would end the story with the powerful verse that tells us that Mary took all of the things that happened and pondered them in her heart.  As a child, there were certainly nights that the wait seemed long and excruciating. I had heard all of this before and there were presents right next to me with my name on them. They needed opening. The patience of a ten year old can only be tested so far after all.

As an adult, I have a completely different take on those moments. You see, like Mary, I have begun to ponder those nights in my heart. I return to them now and see that what was happening was a life lesson, reiterated each year. My parents knew that our meager gifts would not last. They understood that the true meaning of Christmas would endure well beyond us all. The songs we sang were not just a prelude to the evening but a time of worship that served as a reminder of the awesome truth of God becoming Emmanuel. That story that Dad read was very different from Santa and the other stories of the season. It is real. The joy of the angels should infect us every time we think of the mighty creator becoming a babe in a manger.

Now I am the dad. I open up God’s Word and read from that ancient passage in Luke 2 on Christmas. You see, I learned from faithful parents that traditions are wonderful things but there is something more important than our memories. The text of Luke 2 lives in my heart. I recall it with ease. In those anxious moments every year, my parents were training me up in the way I should go. There were some bumpy roads along the way but God’s promise in Proverbs has been fulfilled. I have not departed from it. I pray that the traditions we are establishing as a family today, lead my son to stay devoted all his days to the God who became man so that we could live forever. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Everyman

The Video Speaks:




Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Faithful

Jasper Speaks:

On the day of my ordination in 1997, my mom and dad gave me a simple framed print that says, “The Lord is Faithful”. It has become a cherished item for me. It reminds me of my parents and their ever present example of God’s character before me as I grew up. It reminds me that they always trusted that The Lord would provide for our needs. It reminds me that even when life is hard, his faithfulness never fails.
Life is full of uncertainties. We never know what tomorrow holds. Just in the past few months I have witnessed friends discover life threatening illness, death of children, and financial concerns that seem insurmountable. In the midst of life’s struggles, it can be difficult to remember that there is One who never changes and to whom nothing comes as a surprise.

The enemy would have us believe that we are trapped in our circumstances. He wants us to believe that there is no rhyme or reason to the events in our lives. Our God, however, assures us that all things are working together for our good. It is not only the things we understand that He is working together for our good but all things.

This promise is sure as we read His Word:

For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Psalm 91:3-5 (NLT)

Right now, that small print that I received from my parents so long ago is sitting on my desk. It is reminding me today that even though I may not understand all that is happening, He is faithful. I can doubt my circumstances, I can doubt the people around me, I can doubt the weatherman, I can doubt my country’s leaders but in the midst of all these things, the Lord is faithful. Always. That reminder will help me get through the day a bit easier and help me sleep a bit more peacefully tonight. In spite of the worries of the world, I do not have to be concerned, the Lord is faithful. 

Thursday, October 04, 2012


Life For The Lifeless Times

Jasper Speaks:

Fall is possibly my favorite time of year. I love wearing a jacket or a sweatshirt out on a crisp morning. It is not yet cold enough to be unbearable but it is cool enough to get your senses moving as you exit the house. For five years, Kendra and I served a church just outside of Portland, Maine. Autumn in New England is breathtaking. The foliage there bring “tree peepers” from all over the world to see the changing of one season to the next.

However, as fall continues to that time when it is not quite winter, the tourists turn away. There is not much of a draw to come and see bare trees waiting for the first snowfall. November is a rough month in New England. The sky gets dark early and the temperature begins to fall at a steady pace. There is a sense of dread, as the upcoming harsh winter is foreboding. Everything seems dead. There is little life left. The trees stand leafless, the grass is brown and lifeless, and the sky is an overcast of grey. What just a month before had been beauty at its finest, is now bleak and without hope.

I think we have seasons like this in our own lives. We may move from a time when we sense the beauty and majesty of God into a bleak and bare time in our spiritual journey. It is hard to remember the magnificence of the fall when winter is looming.

This makes me think about Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones. God’s messenger was standing and looking at what seemed to be a hopeless situation. Israel was in exile. The sin of this nation had enslaved them to the Babylonians. Thus far, the message to Ezekiel was that there was nothing but destruction coming to Israel. The situation was as bleak as the early winter.
But at this valley of dry bones God gives Ezekiel the key to restoring life to the spiritually dead. It was simple but challenging:

"So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army."
Ezekiel 37:7-1

The Word of God spoken to these dry bones brought them to life. God breathed life into the dead when the prophet spoke His Word to them. God’s Word can have the same effect on our spiritually dry times. When things seem lifeless and dark to us, a return to God’s Word can breathe new life into our spirit. The Scriptures are resplendent with verses of hope and encouragement. In our darkest times we need to echo the psalmist when he says, “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word" (Psalm 119:28) I challenge you to return to God’s live giving Word today to find the strength you need to prepare for the winter of your spirit that is sure to come. 

Friday, July 06, 2012


HIGHER


Jasper Speaks:

I live in the same house with a daredevil.  He is a six-year-old ball of energy and has little fear of physical harm. We have a crude swing hanging from the tree in our back yard. It is just one seat and a chain that Kendra threw over a branch --- just sturdy enough for one little boy. When we play on the swing, Jackson is not content with a light push to keep him going. He yells for me to push with force. The neighbors hear his hearty order of, “Higher Daddy”! I pull the swing back and push with all my might and then smile as he giggles and yells in excitement.

Those moments get me thinking about my spiritual life. Sometimes I can be timid and afraid for God to swing me higher in my faith. I am content sitting quietly on an old porch swing, rocking in a slow, familiar pattern. Deep down I know God wants me to embrace a more exciting faith. He wants me to be on the rickety tree swing shouting, “Higher!” I wonder if I miss some great adventures by resting and letting my fear outweigh my faith.

Unlike Jackson, I am petrified of heights. I like my feet securely on the ground.  If I pursue that posture spiritually, I run the risk of not experiencing all God has for me. Trusting God and embracing those higher moments can be difficult to do. However, we must try. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” Our fears keep us from trusting God to do exciting things in our lives. We let fear squash our attempts to share our faith, live on mission, go to other places to share the gospel and give sacrificially. If God does not give us a spirit of fear, it must come from the enemy.  If it comes from the enemy, we need to fight against it.

1 John 4:18a tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  God is love. There is no fear in Him. It is time that we start living out a fearless faith. We need to expect God to do exciting things in our lives. We need to be ready to shed the bondage of fear, step out in faith, and do things we never dreamed we could. I pray that you will approach your spiritual life with daredevil like ambition. You will ask God to give you the faith to swing higher and go farther. If we let go of fear, the heights we can attain for God’s Kingdom are without limit.


Faith Builder

Jasper Speaks:

When I think of the times I have wronged God, it humbles me that He continues to love me. It amazes me that He wants to talk with me. Often it takes me days to talk to someone I feel has “mistreated” me. Still, God desires to hear our voice no matter wat. He longs for the communion that is found in a prayer of repentance, a word of thanksgiving or a song of praise.

Prayer is an essential part of a Christian’s life. We have the privilege of speaking with the creator of the universe. The meeting is not one with a frightening force that has no name but with someone who desires us to call him “Abba” (Daddy). He wants to be involved in our lives and He has chosen prayer to be our main line of communication with Him.

The great heroes of the Bible had a spirit of prayer. We see prayer at the center of the lives of members of the “Honor Roll of the Faithful” in Hebrews 11. Abel is listed for his good sacrifice to God. He is mentioned for an act that made Him and active participant in prayer.

Enoch “walked with God”. His prayer life became such a part of who he was that God spared him death and literally continued the conversation as he was translated to glory. Through his life we learn the importance of faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Enoch’s faith was expanded by his prayer life. I believe that in our modern life, full of distractions, our faith can also be made stronger through conversations with the Master.

Noah, as soon as God brought him to dry land, built an altar and prayed. His devotion was so strong that in a world where everyone else was seeking sin in any way possible, he could still hear God’s voice above the tumult. Again, I think there is great wisdom for us today. Sometimes we can feel all alone in this world where people seem set on satisfying their own desires, but like Noah, we can hear God’s reassuring voice that He will help us through our greatest storms, when we quiet ourselves and pray.

Abraham and Sarah prayed continually for a child. Their prayers we answered when they were well “over the hill”. They had all but given up when God showed them he had heard their prayers.  The lesson we find here is that sometimes we give p too easily. The Bible does not say pray until you are convinced that God is not listening. IT tells us to pray without ceasing. We must wait for God’s timing to bring an answer. I am sure Sarah never expected to be changing diapers in her 90’s but she found renewed faith in seeing God answer her prayers.

The honor roll continues with names like Jepithah, Samuel, David, and the prophets who faced difficulties beyond what we can imagine. They all have become a great cloud of witnesses for us to not give up hope. Our hope will increase when we are fervently seeking time in prayer. I pray for you that you will allow your life to be changed and your faith to be increased by sharing your life completely in communication with our heavenly “Daddy” through prayer. 
Minister of Discipleship and Administration

Jasper Speaks:


It has been a crazy few weeks. It is summer in student ministry and things are in full swing. As I write this we are preparing to leave later today for our Mission Trip Retreat for our trip to Memphis in a couple of weeks. We are also preparing for our trip to Ghana. I did accept the new position of Minister of Discipleship and Administration at PBC. We are currently in the hiring process for our new Youth Pastor. If you would like information on that job just click HERE.

Right now I am spinning a lot of plates as we make this transition. Please pray for me and for our church as we continue on.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Changes Ahead: The Possibility of New Ministry Life



Jasper Speaks:

My life could be changing very soon. I would desire your prayers as God reveals His plans to me. On Sunday evening, the church will be voting on whether or not to change my role in our ministry. If they feel led to do so, I will no longer be the Youth Pastor as of the end of the summer. I will move into the more "adult" role of Minister of Discipleship and Administration. I will be responsible for church wide discipleship and most of the administrative areas of our congregation.

This has been a while in coming. Over the past few years God has been speaking to me about what the next step in ministry would be for me. I love student ministry. I have been a youth pastor over half of my life. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a teenager "get it". When I work with students, I can sense God's pleasure. Still, I am not as young as I once was. I have often called myself a youth pastor "lifer". But as I have been going through seminary and have had long discussions with others on staff, God has been changing my focus.

When our current Minister of Education and Administration, Keith Utley,   felt led to plant a new congregation, I was happy for him. Even as we talked, I was not sure how this move would affect me. I didn't know the way the Spirit would move in my life as a result of moving in his. 

I have been praying about how God would use me through this whole process. In the end, I just wanted God to reveal His will to Kendra and I.I didn't know how He would lead but ever since that first conversation with Keith in August, when he told me how God was moving in his life, I knew things in my life would change. Since then there were several conversations with out pastor and other staff. We were all seeking God's will.

This spring we did a series at Reality Check called, "What Are We Doing Here". We encouraged our students and leaders to seek out their spiritual gifts and passions and put them together to find a ministry. That series spoke to me as well. I love to see people grow in Christ. I feel like my God given gifts lie in encouraging, teaching and disciple making.

So, eventually God moved me to talk with the pastor about our church's future. After several conversations, we felt like God was leading us to this current area. By taking on this new role, I will be staring down the barrel of my last summer as a Youth Pastor. If the church sees fit to proceed, I will supervise the new Student Ministry Team Leader but my days as the "youth guy" will end. 

It is a bittersweet time. I desire your prayers. Please pray that the question and answer time and the vote following on Sunday evening would both glorify God and confirm His purpose for the church and my family. This will be a new frontier for us. If God is in it, the mission will thrive. Thanks in advance for remembering us to the Father. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

His Best Season Ever


Jasper Speaks:

I love this video. I am so grateful that so many STL Cardinals are open and excited about their faith!


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Jasper Speaks:

Can You Hear Me Now?

Let’s face it. Sometimes life is just hard. We live in a fallen world and sin complicates everything. Sometimes in the midst of our pain, we wonder if God is there. No matter how long a person has been a Christian, there are bound to be times when he or she wonders if God is listening at all.

Sometimes in life, we have expectations about how things should be. We pray and do so with great faith and fervor. But it seems that God doesn’t answer in the way we want. Sometimes we can get discouraged and feel like our prayers are completely being ignored. It can challenge us to the point of doubting who God is and if He really does have a plan for us.

Prayer is a funny thing. God listens but does not answer in our will. I know Prayer is about God changing us not us changing God. Even when we  have been praying for His will to be ours, it can seem like He isn’t at work.  The road to an exchange of wills is a long one. Surrender is never easy. I don't think a person is a bad Christian when he or she gets discouraged. Even Jesus got weary. Remember He said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” Matthew 27:37-39
He even asked God to change His plan:

"Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." - Luke 22:42

God did not change His plan. Even Jesus ended up suffering when He did not want to. Knowing that does not necessarily make your suffering easier. It does not explain it. Nevertheless, I pray that it gives you at least a little peace to know that you are far from alone.

At times like these in my life (and they have come many times) I try to focus on why Jesus came. He came so He could be the ransom for our sins but He came to earth to be one of us. He experienced all the trials and temptations that we do. He understands weariness. He understands grief. He understands pain.
My prayer is that you will find solace in the fact that you are praying to someone who understands what you are experiencing. He does care. He does know. The result you seek may not come quickly or at all but I promise, He hears. He knows best. Those are not just pat words to rub some salve on your wounds. Those are His true promises. His promise is not that we will always understand what He is doing but that all things will work together for our good. Some of those things we will see on Earth, others we will not understand to Heaven.

What I am certain of is this: God loves you. God does really have a plan. God is listening. I pray that even in the darkness you will be able to see His loving hand guiding you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Top Student Ministry Books


Jasper Speaks:

Over the past several days I have seen many postings on Youth Ministry blogs about the best Youth Ministry books per the blog author. So, since some of my favorites didn't make the other lists, I thought I would jump on board.

                                             
1. The Holy Bible - New Living Translation
Seriously, start with the Bible. There are multiple instances of youth ministry done right from Moses to Paul. And of course the ultimate Youth Pastor --- Jesus. I like using the NLT in my lessons because of its clarity in today's language.

2. Purpose Driven Youth Ministry
Still a classic. This book helps to put it all in order for you. It addresses why we do what we do and also addresses your personal life in ministry.

3. The Seven Checkpoints
If PDYM answers the how questions, The Seven Checkpoints answers the what. I love the way it challenges me to program my messages around the seven essentials teens should know when they graduate from your ministry. I use this book every fall when I sit down to plan my teaching for the year. It is an invaluable resource.

4. Simple Student Ministry 
This book revolutionized my philosophy of ministry a few years back. It challenges the myth that student ministries must be filled with activities. It changed my heart from being a complex Youth Pastor. Click here to read my blog on that process. This article, in varying forms appeared at youthministry.com and in Group magazine.

5. Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry
Doug Fields makes a second appearance on the list with this great little book. I would recommend it to any new youth pastor but also to anyone starting in a new ministry. Even as a veteran it provided helpful transition hints and reminders that made transitioning to a new ministry less stressful.

Those are my top five. I realize my list is neither as long or as academic as some I have read but being in the trenches I know that as Youth Pastors we need the best bang for our buck that takes the least amount of our time. These books all are easy reads but can lead to amazing transformation. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Four Years Later


Jasper Speaks:

Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother's death. My heart is heavy today. I just attended the funeral of a loving saint from our church as well. I kept thinking throughout the service that  death is a natural part of life. That doesn't make it better really. Still, I know my mother is in Heaven and that her years of pain are gone. The hole she left behind is deep and can never be filled.  Maybe some of this is harder because today is the day my dad is being moves to a new facility as his Alzheimer's gets worse. Hard times makes me miss Mom more. I  am just thankful for the 38 years of my life I got to share with her.She was an amazing woman and the influence she had on my life continues on.

Friday, January 20, 2012

His Way


Jasper Speaks:

As I sat in seminary class this morning and heard the prayer requests of my fellow students, a common theme emerged. Overwhelmingly the request that was most heard was, "I need to know God's Will". I think many people in the pews would think that those at this stage in theological education wouldn't struggle with something so base as just knowing what God wants for his or her life. The truth is we all struggle with this. How do we find out His will? Scripture addresses this on many occasions. One of the most quoted is Proverbs 3:5-6 :

   Trust in the LORD with all your heart, 
      And lean not on your own understanding; 
    In all your ways acknowledge Him, 
      And He shall direct your paths. (NKJV)


Sounds easy enough. But how do we do this? Trusting with all your heart doesn't mean not questioning God sometimes. It does mean that you trust with all your being that God has your best interest at heart. Sure there are times that this is harder than others but deep within you, you trust Him. 


I think the next step is a natural out pour of the first. We have to acknowledge Him. We need to acknowledge the trust we have in Him. I think that means we need to share with others the faith that we have. We have to acknowledge that God is trustworthy. We have to acknowledge that we are putting that trust in Him. 


We also have to acknowledge him by improving our relationship with him. We do this through a consistent time with him. We need to return to His Word every day. We also need to speak to Him. We need to converse with the Lord frequently. If we are those who believe in God's attribute of omnipresence, shouldn't we talk to him? Think about how we would seldom sit in a room with another person and not speak to him or her. We acknowledge his or her presence with us. The same is true with God. He is there with us always. So, isn't true that we need to acknowledge His presence often? 1 Thessalonians says that we should pray without ceasing. Acknowledging God means that you keep the conversation with Him going throughout the day. He longs for that conversation with us. I would go as far to say that it is difficult to ever know God's will if we are not frequently acknowledging Him.


I also believe that when we are trusting and acknowledging Him, He gives us the power in our souls to say, "Let's do it your way, Lord." With full trust of God comes a movement in our spirit that says, "God, I want you to have your way in my life". That's what God was telling me as we were praying together in class this morning. As our prayers were being lifted up a hymn from my childhood became my prayer and I want to share that song with you:


Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
      Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
     While I am waiting, yielded and still.



Here is the story behind that song:


In 1902, Adelaide A. Pollard, a Bible teacher and hymn writer, was hoping to go to Africa as a missionary but found herself unable to raise the needed funds to make the journey. Greatly discouraged, she attended a prayer service one evening and as she sat there, she overheard an elderly woman say "It really doesn't matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives." The elderly woman inspired Pollard and she contemplated the story of the potter from Jeremiah 18:3 and, upon her return home that evening, wrote all four stanzas before retiring for the night


As you trust in the Lord today, acknowledge Him. Let Him have His way in your life today.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Devil Made Me Do It!

Jasper Speaks

The other night I was reading our evening Bible devotion to Jackson. It was the story of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Jackson had of course heard this story before so when we got to the part where the serpent was tempting Eve, he got worked up as he knew where this was going. I didn’t have to tell him who the bad guy was. He knew what the serpent was doing was going to end in a bad way. When we were done he asked, “Daddy, why did they eat the fruit?” That question is one that has haunted humanity. Why? Why did they fall? Why with all the beauty of the garden did they choose to do the one thing God told them they couldn’t do? Why give up everything that was in front of them, to see what more there might be?

Temptation is a powerful thing. Satan has been using it from the very beginning. It is what he does. He is very good at it. I often tell the students that it is like someone who spends their lives working at an M&M factory. Their job is to put the Ms on the candy. If that is the only thing they did for 40 years you have got to think they would be pretty good at it. Satan has been tempting humans since the dawn of our existence. It is what he does. He is very good at it. He knows the words to say. He knows the moments to strike. He is the expert tempter.

Temptation is not where sin lies. Sin is in action. We are all tempted. Jesus was even tempted by Satan and as we know he was without sin, temptation alone cannot be sinful. It is where temptation leads us that is where our concern lies.

Temptation is opportunity. A choice lies before us. Will we fail or will we triumph? Temptation is not something we necessarily need to dread. Resisting temptation and overcoming Satan can be a great growth moment in our spiritual lives. Easier said than done? Yes. But God makes a promise to us in our temptation in 1 Corinthians. He says:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

What Satan wants you to believe is that the place where you are tempted is yours alone. He wants you to believe that no one else has ever been where you are. That quite simply is a lie and nothing more. The things with which you struggle are not new. They are things that are common to us all. Maybe they manifest themselves in different ways but the temptation is the same. In the end, we are tempted to be selfish. We are tempted to find what pleases us most. Satan is so good at tempting because his fall came from the same temptation he gives us. He was selfish and wanted more for himself. He longs for you and me to be just as 
selfish as he was when he fell from Heaven.

Jesus came and told us that we need to be living for others. We need to focus on other people’s needs above our own. This message is the exact opposite of the message Satan tempts us with. For me the most promising part of 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that God is faithful and won’t tempt us more than we can bear. He will make a way of escape every time. That is so reassuring to me. When I am tempted, God has already made a way for me to escape it. I simply have to choose that way of escape. For Adam and Eve it was to walk away and eat from any other tree in the Garden. It comes to us in many different ways. That is the power in the promise.

Temptation will come. Sometimes it will seem to be more than you can take. God’s Word tells us that is a lie. Temptation is an opportunity to grow. The next time you are tempted remember that God has promised a way of escape for you. Look for it. Take the opportunity to allow the temptation to be a time of growth rather than failure. God is faithful. Let Him be in your life by fleeing temptation through His loving way of escape.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Resolutions

Jasper Speaks:

As we enter into a New Year we will soon be hearing people ask the familiar question, “What is your New Year Resolution?” That question always make me cringe a bit. There are so many things I can think I need to resolve to do or not do. If I sat down and wrote out each of these things I could probably fill a notebook. It would certainly take a long time to list out all the ways I could be different.

In the past, like many of you I am sure, I have resolved to eat less, exercise more, watch less television, and have a day of rest each week, among a plethora of other good intentions. I may start strong on January 1 but by February 1, most of my good intentions have remained just that --- intentions.

The New Year always seems to bring renewed hope. It is like we get a fresh start as the calendar changes from December to January. With the full rotation of the Earth, comes a chance to begin again. Unfortunately, what we often find is that the same things that plagued us on December 30th are still plaguing us on January 2nd. Our struggles are still there hounding us. Our bills are not suddenly reduced back to zero. Our illnesses do not magically go away. The New Year brings hope but it does not always bring change.

As Christians, however, we have a greater hope. We can embrace the hope of second chances and new beginnings. The best part is we do not have to wait for a New Year to experience them. Lamentations 3:22-24 tells us that we receive new beginnings more than just once a year. It says:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
    "therefore I will hope in him."

We don’t need to wait to make a resolution at the changing of a calendar. Our new beginnings come with each day. Every day provides an opportunity to allow the Lord to show himself in our lives in a new way. Even when our lives seem darkest, he remains the only light we need. He comes in many ways, offering a new mercy to us every day.

This year I challenge you to only resolve one thing --- seek out God’s new mercies every morning. Test Him and see that if you truly put you hope in His mercies, they are endless. Make your resolution for 2012 to become someone who changes your heart by holding strong to the steadfast love and mercy of our Heavenly Father and appreciating it every day.

Resolutions are not all bad but the hope we can have in the Lord to be our portion, provider and Father is not something that will cease when we are not faithful. His new and glorious mercies will follow you through this year and for the years to come.

Therefore, I ask, “What is your New Year’s Resolution?”
Hard or Impossible?

Jasper Speaks:

Do you ever feel like living the Christian life is just plain hard? I would say that if you have never felt that way, you are not really living out your faith.
The truth is living the Christian life isn’t hard ---it is IMPOSSIBLE! We can’t do it on our own. We have to stop working and striving to do things and let Jesus live the life for us. A verse that sticks out to me when I think about this is Galatians 2:20. It says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”. Not only do I think that this verse tells us to live a life that is surrendered to God’s plan and not our own, I think it tells us to let God take care of everything in our lives. I think it tells us to lean on God during times that are hard.
How do we do that? Everyday you face challenges and you have to react to them. Maybe your friends or family don’t understand your faith. Maybe you are going through a time of loneliness. Maybe you feel like there is so much going on in your life that you can not keep up. Maybe you just feel like the day to day struggles in your life are too much to bear. Let Christ do the living then.
I think the first thing you need to do in order to let Christ do the living is give yourself a relationship check up. Think about your relationship with Christ. How vital is it? Are you really taking time to spend in His word? Are you communicating with Him about your life regularly? Are you living out the life that the Bible requires of you?
Spending time with God is essential to letting Him live for you. Reading His word (the Bible) is a daily reminder of all He has done for us and the promises He makes to us. I love the passage in The Message version of the Bible in Lamentations 3 that says:
 “I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness!”

So, each day you can sit down with God’s Word and find new things that will remind you that God is in control and wants to live the life for you! I talked a little about that last month when we were reminded that the New Year isn’t a magic change. If you live your life believing that God is going to do something new every day, and get excited about that, then it will become easier to let Christ do the living. His plan is real and it is for your best and dying to our own wants gives way to allowing Him to work in us.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 says simply, “Pray continually”. Being in communication with God throughout your day will greatly increase your ability to let Him do the living for you. If you are approaching a difficult time, pray. Sounds simple but it is amazing the way God can change your attitude or give you courage if you just take a moment and ask Him to help. Prayer is vital in the struggle to let go and let God live for you.
Finally, how you live out your life everyday is essential in the battle to let God live for you. In short --- practice what you preach. St. Francis of Assisi may have stated this best when he said, “Preach the gospel everywhere. Use words when necessary”. Put action to what you believe. Stand firm in your commitments. It may not always be easy but step three is made more simple when you have step one (Spending time with God) and Step Two (prayer) down.

Hard times will come and for many of us, they are here everyday. Still, God says, “Don’t sweat it. Let me take control”. I am praying that you would let God do that in your life!