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4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 NIV)

We are heading into a new year. It’s that time of year when something within us desires change. We long for something different than we’ve experienced in the past year so we sit down and write out our lists–some call them “New Year’s Resolutions” while others simply call them “goals.”

I’m a goal kind of guy. I normally sit down at the end of each year, ask God what He is desiring to do in my life, try and discern what’s stirring in my heart, and put a pen to paper. I sat down this morning and took a look at the goals that I listed at this time last year. The good news is that some of those goals have been reached. One of my goals was to hide one verse a week in my heart…I failed. I failed again. It’s easy to focus on our failures, but God can give us a new perspective. I didn’t hide one verse a week, not exactly 52 verses, but there are several more nuggets of God’s Word hidden away in my heart now, at the end of 2013. I’m thankful for the grace, perspective, encouragement, and strength of each one.

Truth is that if I were to make two categories of the goals I set for 2013– “Accomplished” and “Failed”–I failed more than I succeeded. This year I’m not going to set goals like I have in years past. It’s not that I’ve given up “pressing on,” but I feel called to focus on one thing above all others. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” I want to take Him at His Word and seek to remain in Him. I want to walk through each day of 2014 hand-in-hand with my Savior. I want to make seeking Him priority #1 each day…beginning today. I want to know Him like I’ve never known Him before. I want to depend on Him like my life depends on it–because it does. I want to draw near to others who are drawing near to Him. I can think of no greater goal, no higher ambition, no more lofty pursuit than remaining in Him. Lord, give me the strength and grace to remain in You.

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13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

The end of 2013 is upon us. How did it go? Any mountaintop moments come to mind? Has the Lord led you through any valleys? Or maybe you are going through a dark night of the soul as you read this. Did you have any hopes, goals, and aspirations that you set your sights on at the beginning of the year that just didn’t pan out? I sure did.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to get mired in the failures of yesterday instead of focusing on the possibilities of today. Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments when, like a little kid, I dream big dreams. There are those times that I stand on my tip toes, look out into the future, and I paint a picture of what could be with bold, bright colors. Then… You know what “then” means don’t you? “Then” for me means that in the middle of dreaming big, planning with passion, and painting with the vibrant colors of the rainbow–I fall back into reality. That little man in my head says to me, “You’ve already tried that and it didn’t work? You’re 52 years old–you can’t do that! Why even try when you know you are going to fail…just like you did last time.” “Then” is a killer of dreams for me.

I don’t want to spend 2014 living with what comes after the “then” of my dreams and goals. I want to “forget what lies behind and strain toward what is ahead.” I want “to press on towards the goal for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

As I read God’s Word I find failure on each and every page. Abraham and Sarah failed, but they pressed on. David failed, but he pressed on. Peter failed, but he pressed on. The question is, “What will you and I do as we stand on the verge of a New Year? Will we refuse to run the race because we’ve failed so many times in the past or will we take our place on the starting line and run like we’ve never run before? Press on.

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26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26 NIV)

I’ve been blessed throughout my life to have learned from some wonderful coaches. Each of them had their own style, their own personality, but each of them were teachers at heart. Some, like Cecil Morris, had excelled at the highest level in their sport. Others never got their names in the record books, but they sure left their mark on my life.

What was it about the coaches that helped me the most? There are two things that immediately come to mind. First, they were amazing teachers. Whether it was in the film room or on the field, they were always teaching me, always pushing me to improve. Secondly, they paid an inordinate amount of attention to details. They taught me that it’s the little things that matter the most. Little things done right will result in big things taking place. Coaches shaped me, inspired me, challenged me, and gave me a perspective on life that has far out-lived my days on the field.

Playing sports ended for me when I was barely in my twenties, but life kept coming at me like a tidal wave. Getting married, having kids, finishing school, going to work, paying bills, working with people, dealing with the deaths of loved ones…now those are challenges that make facing the Green Bay Packers look like a piece of cake.

Life isn’t for sissies! The road gets rough. The days can be long. We have big decisions to make. We have some huge challenges before us. We have experienced heartache and heartache will come knocking again. We’ve been letdown, disappointed, both in ourselves and in those around us. How do you make it through all of these challenges and maintain your sanity?

You need to know that we aren’t alone. I’m so glad we’ve got a Coach, the Holy Spirit, who comes alongside of us to teach us, remind us, encourage us, challenge us, and push us to give it our all each and every day. His counsel is perfect. His wisdom is infinite. His ability to teach is limited only by our willingness to learn. He will lead you and me through this life and be with us until the very end.

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16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18 NIV)

Jesus said He would ask the Father, who in turn, would give us another “Counselor to be with us forever. The word translated, “Counselor,” is the word, “parakletos,” and it means, “helper” or “one who comes alongside.” What a beautiful picture of the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. You might ask, “How does the Holy Spirit help us?” That’s a great question. Let me answer by telling you a story.

A couple of years ago I went with a group of men to a family’s house in Edmond. The couple we were visiting are a remarkable couple. They raised five kids of their own. Their youngest is 31 years old. About eight years ago, they became aware of some kids who needed help. They were foster kids. They were young, the youngest just 8 months old, and they were in the State’s custody. This couple in our church felt called to “come alongside” of the five kids. They took them in, provided for them everything they needed, and loved them as if they were their own.

I sat and listened to the husband and wife share their story with the men who were listening as if something priceless was being shared with them. It was. The couple explained that though they were foster parents to the kids for a year the day came when they decided the kids needed more than the State could provide so they decided to adopt them.

Each of the five little ones they adopted were in Therapeutic Foster Care when they adopted them. They were kids with LOTS of needs, but Richard and Bonnie knew that God had called them alongside of these kids…regardless. I’ve watched Richard and Bonnie love, care for, and provide everything their five adopted children needs. As I’ve watched them I’ve grown in my understanding of how the Holy Spirit comes alongside of me and you. The kid’s lives were messy..still are in some ways. They were needy..still are. Yet Richard and Bonnie have stood, and continue to stand, with them through it all. They are with them…regardless.

Our lives are messy, we are needy, and yet the Holy Spirit of God, our Counselor, stands with us through it all. As much love as Richard and Bonnie have for their children, their love is a mere shadow of the Father’s love and devotion to us. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. He is with us. Hallelujah, He is with us!

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18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 NIV)

Christmas is just one day away. The malls are being filled with last minute shoppers who are emptying the shelves and their pockets trying to find the perfect gift for family and friends. Families are making last minute travel plans as they anxiously look forward to hugging the necks of loved ones. Many of those who have suffered a divorce, the death of someone they love, poor health, or the loss of a job just to name a few are not looking forward to Christmas day at all. Christmas will not be full of cheer for many of the broken and lonely.

There will be gifts shared at Christmas this year, just like there are gifts shared each Christmas. Toys will bring a big smile to the faces of little ones who will toss and turn on Christmas Eve wondering if Santa will really come. Older kids will glory in a new gadget, the latest technology..until the next Christmas season rolls around. Prince Charming will light up the face of Cinderella with a necklace or ring to demonstrate his endless love.

In my 51 years on the planet I’ve experienced sadness and joy at Christmas. I’ve been the little kid who woke up Christmas morning to find Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots under the tree. I can remember getting my first Walkman (remember those?) as well as an iPod. I’ve even tried to play the role of Prince Charming and bought Connie some jewelry, even though she would prefer a weedeater or garden tools. I absolutely love that about that girl!

With all that Christmas has been, can be, could be, or what we hope it will be this year–the one thing that I cherish about Christmas is the truth from Matthew’s Gospel. More important than family gathering around the table is the fact that God drew near, and continues to draw near to this day. More important than Santa coming on Christmas morn is the fact that Jesus came. What He has brought to my life and yours didn’t come from Best Buy, Macy’s, or Neiman Marcus, it came from the heart of the Father. He came to give and to take. He has come to give us hope, to give us peace, to give us life, even eternal life. And He has come to take our sins take them upon Himself. Merry Christmas!

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13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. (John 14:13-15 NIV)

An improper use of God’s Word can lead us to disappointment with God. When God gave us His Word He gave it to us for a purpose, a very specific purpose. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants to make Himself known. He wants us to be able to understand what it means to be in relationship with Him. He wants to lead us, guide us, comfort us, and encourage us as we walk through this life with Him. God is a God of purpose and every word in the Scriptures are written with intent.

The problem comes into play when we use God’s Word improperly, when we try to make it say what God never intended. John 14:13-14 are a prime example of how we can try to use God, and the Scriptures, to get what we want in life. Jesus said, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” When we want what we want more than we want God’s will then we read this Scripture, “Whatever you ask I will do it for you. Ask for anything and it is yours.” That’s not what Jesus is saying at all. Those are the words of Santa Claus, not the Savior.

Jesus followed His words about “asking” and “giving” with these words: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” When we become a follower of Jesus we die to ourselves. Our “wants” are replaced by His “will” as the most important pursuit of our lives. When we live for Him our comfort and desires are irrelevant–His purpose for our lives becomes our passion. When we live for him our healing is secondary, His glory is primary. The more we are molded into His image the less we will pray for what we would have and the more we will pray for the things He would have for us.

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12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12 NIV)

When we read this verse it is easy to make one of two errors. First, we can read it like some Tony Robbins motivational mantra and convince ourselves that we are going to accomplish great things. That’s not really Jesus’ point. Secondly, we can read the verse and think, “Jesus was naive about what His followers might accomplish.” That would be missing Jesus’ point as well. To really understand Jesus’ statement it is vitally important that we highlight one phrase in the verse, “faith in me.”

We use the word “faith” like some folks carry around a rabbit’s foot. We “hope” something will happen. We have no real commitment to “it,” we just hope that what we are hoping for comes to fruition. “Faith” is not hoping the best will come about. “Faith” is not a Sunday morning jaunt out to the sanctuary to ask God to do what we want Him to do for us. The kind of faith that the Bible speaks about is something altogether different. “Faith” is the surrender of our will and the passionate pursuit of God’s will for our lives. “Faith” is laying our hands to the plow and pressing on in pursuit of God’s call upon our lives–regardless of the price to be paid in that pursuit. “Faith” is believing God to the degree that we are willing to work with all of our hearts to do what He says.

What happens when a group of Jesus’ followers live out this kind of faith? What can happen is beyond our wildest imagination. I’ve watched, for the past twenty years, as countless lives of men, women, boys, and girls have been transformed from pew sitters to Kingdom builders. I’ve seen Sunday morning Christians become 24/7 followers of Jesus. I’ve seen bleary, weary-eyed Christians become wide-eyed proclaimers of the hope, grace, and mercy of God to the broken, lonely, and lost. I’ve seen it, I’ve witnessed it, and it is my desire to live it. It is not enough for me simply to believe. I want to live what I believe. I want to live out the faith that He calls me to embrace. I want to do God’s will each and every moment of every day of the rest of my life.

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4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:4-6 NIV)

Jesus was speaking to His disciples about His soon coming departure. He would be leaving them, but He promised to come back for them so that they might be where He was going. Then He said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas, we know him as “doubting Thomas,” spoke up and said, “We don’t have a clue. How are we supposed to know the way to where You are going?” I love Thomas’ response. He wasn’t trying to be a smart-alick. He wasn’t trying to stir things up. Thomas was just being honest by admitting–“I’m clueless.”

At that point Jesus hadn’t gone to the Cross, there were still a lot of unanswered questions for Jesus’ followers, and they just didn’t get it. They wouldn’t get it until after Jesus had risen from the grave.

We live in a different day. We have God’s Word. We live on this side of Jesus’ resurrection so we know that Jesus is the way to Heaven, we know that Jesus is the Truth of God, and we know that Jesus holds the key to life, even eternal life. All of this is true, and yet in many ways, we are just like Thomas–we don’t have a clue about much of life.

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you couldn’t figure it out–you could make a way out of your predicament? How many times have you been in a place where the truth seemed elusive and you thought, “If only I knew the truth about what was going on?” How many times have you been in a dark place and it seemed like life would never be the same for you again? We need to know that Jesus is not just the way to Heaven, but Jesus is the way through every storm we will find ourselves in today. We need to know that Jesus is the Truth in the midst of all of our uncertainty, all the confusion, that we will face today. We need to know that life is more than the accumulation of exciting experiences or desirable “things.” Life, the life God intends for us to experience, is experienced only by those who are passionately pursuing to know Jesus more and more. Today, I want to remember, whatever comes my way, that Jesus is the way through it all, He is Truth in my confusion, and He alone is the life that my soul longs to experience.

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1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 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. 3 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. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NIV)

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve spoken at funerals and shared this verse with the family and friends of those who have died. I’ve shared it in ornate modern-day cathedrals with pews filled with those who were grieving. I’ve shared it at lonely gravesides where there was only a handful of family members huddled together in the cold. This Scripture has soothed troubled souls and quieted desperate hearts. There is no greater comfort, at a time like that, than to be reminded that Jesus comes back to take His own home. I said, “home.” We so easily get confused and forget that this place–the place where we eat dinner, prop up our feet, and lay our head down at night–this is not our home.

I love Hebrews 11. It is often called, “The Hall of Faith.” It is a great chapter about men and women like Moses, Noah, Rahab, David, and others who trusted God through thick and thin. The line that I love the most is, “…And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)

They, like us, were here on assignment. We have a job to do and it is to walk by faith in our King, make Him known to a world living in darkness, and look forward to the day when He will come for us…just like He did them. When He comes for us He will take us home. I take great comfort in knowing that Jesus is busy preparing a place for me and for all of those who trust in Him. He has promised me that He is with me until that day. As I leave the house this morning, I’m not going by myself–my King goes with me. He is with me until that day He takes me home.

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37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! (John 13:37-38 NIV)

I love Simon Peter. As I read God’s Word, and all of the stories about Peter’s life, I can easily come to the conclusion that he loved Jesus with all of his heart. When Jesus was being arrested, it is Peter who drew the sword and was ready to fight the whole army that came for his Lord. Peter was a man of faith. When the disciples saw Jesus coming towards them, walking on the Sea of Galilee, it was Peter who stepped out of the boat and began walking on water towards Jesus. I also read about a man who was unashamed of the Gospel. At Pentecost, it was Peter who preached the most powerful sermon you will ever hear. Peter was a pillar among the disciples.

At the same time that I find all of these wonderful aspects of Peter’s life, I also find another side of Peter recorded in Scripture. Peter seemed to be the disciple who was always putting his foot in his mouth. Paul called Peter out for being a hypocrite and staying away from Gentiles when the Jews were around. (Galatians 2:11) Then there was the incident that Jesus predicted in John 13. Peter denied Jesus. The One he said he was willing to die for, he denied. Not once, but three times. The last time he was asked if he was a follower of Jesus, Peter, “…began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71 NIV) Shortly thereafter the rooster crowed and Peter remembered. He remembered Jesus’ words. Words that seemed nonsensical, absurd, at the time. Peter would never, NEVER, deny his Lord. And now he had. “And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72 NIV)

I think I love Peter so much because I see a lot of him in me. I love the Lord, yet I hear the rooster crow most every day.