You Can Make A Difference By Praying!

 

Did you know that God answers prayer? It is true. God wants you to pray and ask him for guidance, direction, protection, and supply. He loves it when you pray! The Bible tells us that our prayers are like a sweet fragrance to God.           

Psalm 141:2 Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering.

He hears our requests and keeps track of our sorrows and petitions to him.

Psalm 56:8 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Why should we pray? Here are a few verses that tell us why.

Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.

1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares for you.

Jeremiah 32:27 Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?

Ephesians 3:20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Matthew 21:21-22 (NLT) Then Jesus told them, “I assure you, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and it will happen. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 7:7-8 (KJV) Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Philippians 4:6-7 (MES) Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Join me in praying for these things this week:

  • Pray for Avalon 365 – we want to reach people with the gospel and be an every day church!

  • Pray for the growth of Avalon Church.

  • Pray that God supplies our financial needs.

  • Pray for our student ministry Beach Retreat. We have more than ever before going this year. Pray for our students to have an encounter with Jesus!

  • Pray for the Avalon HOPE event – Back Pack to School. We want to show the love of Jesus to our community.

  • Pray for Avalon Kids. Pray for Brian Tatum and our leadership team as they gear up for the new school year.

Prayer works! I hope you will pray this week and believe God for answers!

Take the Control Freak Test

 

The summer school break is nearly finished. Time flies by so quickly it seems out of control, doesn’t it? Here is a little humor for all the control freaks in the world. Enjoy!

 

You Might Be a Control Freak If…

  • You get sweaty palms when you don’t have a list.

  • When you ride instead of drive it increases the likelihood of a divorce.

  • You think, “If you want something done right, then do it yourself”, should be a Bible verse.

  • You will gladly admit you are wrong in the unlikely event that ever happens.

  • When other people talk, you hide your boredom by sighing a lot.

  • You have made an agenda for your family vacation.

  • You actually do know what's best for other people.

  • If someone touches your stuff you will most likely “un-friend” them on Facebook.

  • You sent your wife over 1000 texts last month asking when she will be home and what’s for supper.

  • It genuinely bothers you that your favorite celebrity changed hairstyles without consulting you.

  • You enjoy surprise parties thrown for you as long as you get to plan them.

  • You have actually considered leaving a 12:00 lunch appointment at 12:01 because they were late.

  • When people call you stubborn you actually think they are complimenting you.

  • Taking orders from someone else is like a roundhouse kick to the face.

  • When people disagree with you it only proves how stupid they are.

  • Watching an episode of Hoarders makes you think of how messy everyone’s desk is at your office.

  • You always have to have the remote.

  • You’ve actually yelled at an old lady driver and felt justified.

  • You lose sleep when someone you barely know doesn’t take your advice.

You are Only One Choice Away from a Different Life

 

I heard a good friend make the statement, “You are only one choice away from a different life.” I have spent much time pondering that statement and I believe it is true in both a negative and a positive way.

I have known many people who have experienced the truth of that statement through a bad choice. The choice to have an affair, to drive drunk, to take illegal drugs, to steal something when you think no one is watching, and so many other bad choices can lead you to a completely different life. It can ruin your reputation, your family life, your finances, and so much more.

When you think about it from a positive standpoint, however, it has even more power to change you and lead you to a different life. That is the power of the gospel. One choice can change you forever. You can choose to receive Christ, to get baptized, to start tithing, to get in a small group, to begin serving and your life will be forever changed. The positives and possibilities are endless. You can choose to live on a budget and manage your money. You can choose to live a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise. You can choose to start that business, to finish your education, to read the Bible regularly, to pray, to extend forgiveness to someone who wronged you, to be kind, to be generous, to love, to be positive; the possibilities are endless and the difference one decision will make in your life is amazing.

You are just one choice away from a different life. What will you choose?

Finding A Place Where You Belong

 

 

Many people resist the idea of church membership in our culture. Part of that may be because people distrust institutions and part may be because they misunderstand what it means to be a member. If you see the church as a corporation, then you probably don’t see the need for membership. But if you understand the biblical picture of a church as a place of belonging, as a family, as a place where you grow spiritually and a place where you can express your God-given gifts, then your view of church membership is different.

The first church I served as senior pastor is a wonderful church with a strong core of committed believers. Soon after I became their pastor, however, I made a shocking discovery. There were lots of people who claimed to be members of the church but they never attended, served, or gave. They were members in name only. They signed a piece of paper saying that they had received Christ and been baptized and that they wanted to “join” the church. That was pretty much all that we required of them. Doesn’t that miss the point entirely?

Many Christians treat church membership like they treat a gym membership. They sign on the dotted line. They show up occasionally. They are usually sore for a while afterward. They like the idea of being a member but they do not ever fully experience the benefits of being a member because they never fully participate.

The biblical model of church membership is not as much about joining as it is about participating. That is why at Avalon Church we emphasize participation rather than membership. Does signing a piece of paper make you a member of the local body of believers? No! Participating with a group of believers makes you a part of the group. Signing a piece of paper is about exclusion but participating is about inclusion. You only really belong when you participate.

So how do you participate? We emphasize taking your next step in your relationship with Christ. No matter if you are a new believer or a mature believer, you must always take your next step. I believe these steps are necessary for “membership.” Notice that these steps are all about participation and are foundational to growing into a committed follower of Christ:

  • Identify – We must identify with Christ through salvation and baptism. Only then can we truly be a part of a church. You identify with a church when you attend regularly and hear the teaching of God’s Word so that you can grow in your faith.

  • Involve – Getting involved by serving is vital to the Christian experience. God has gifted you and you have something to contribute. Getting involved with a group of believers for fellowship, support, and growth is critical for spiritual growth.

  • Invest – By giving to spread the gospel through a local congregation you are helping fulfill the biblical mandate to take the good news to everyone everywhere. You can give without loving but you cannot love without giving. Generosity is a big part of obeying Christ’s command to love others.

  • Invite – You play a huge role in bringing others to Christ. By simply inviting others to church you are also inviting them into a relationship with Christ. You play a role in God’s story. God wants us to share that story with others.

What about you? Are you a paper signer or a participant? Lots of church members are not really church members yet – but you can be by taking your next step today! Make sure to participate in our Next Step class at 9:30 each Sunday in August. 

 

 

 

 

What Jesus Said About Unity in the Church

Did you know that Jesus prayed for you? You can read about it in John 17. One of the big things he prayed for was unity in the church. Nothing will derail vision faster than disunity in the ranks. It is true of a business, a basketball team, a family, and a church. How many times have we seen the movie where a less talented but determined team pulled together and toppled the more talented, better financed, more popular, but ego-centered team? It is such a popular idea that it has become a cliché.

Why is unity important in the church?

1. Jesus prayed for it.

 John 17:23a “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity."

 If Jesus prayed for unity in the church, then it must be important. He prayed that the church would follow the example of the God the Father and God the Son. What could the primary reason for this unity be? Point two answers that question.

2. Unity is necessary for the most effective presentation of the gospel. 

John 17:23b “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Notice how this kind of unity is tied to the spreading of the gospel. “Then the world will know…” I believe a church that is unified around the mission of spreading the gospel will model the kind of unity that the Father and Son have. I also believe that Satan knows the best way to keep a church from fulfilling its mission is to get people arguing over non-essentials. This kind of disharmony causes the church to become inward-focused and to lose its evangelistic passion. 

3. Unity is necessary for the power of God.

2 Chronicles 30:12 “Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.”

When God’s hand is in a church or a group of people, his power rests on them. This power is necessary for the unity of mind and purpose needed to fulfill God’s plan. A church must not focus on the minor things but on the major thing! Too often we divide ourselves over things that do not matter. Don’t mistake diversity for disunity. We can be wonderfully diverse while being totally in harmony over who we are in Christ. If God created over 400,000 species of beetles, why would he not want churches with unique personalities and abilities to reach people!

4. Unity keeps the church body growing, maturing, and working at its fullest potential.

1 Corinthians 12:12 “…just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

 Ephesians 4:3 “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Some Christians think that spiritual maturity is achieved through amassing knowledge about the Bible the Bible. But spiritual maturity is achieved through obeying what the Bible says and fulfilling the mission of telling everyone everywhere about the gospel.

5. Unity flows from love and love unites the church in its mission.

Colossians 3:14 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Without love, there is no unity whatsoever. This love must be focused on and received from Jesus Christ. There is no other way to keep harmony and stay on mission.

 6. Unity keeps Christ at the center instead of us.

Ephesians 1:10b “…to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

It is not about you but it is about Christ! My plans, my desires, my preferences, my agenda, and my feelings are nothing compared to the gospel. When we become unified around that mission it changes everything and makes our churches more effective in fulfilling God’s mission for our lives.

The Psalmist said it well when he wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 131:1

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Vacation

 

From the beginning of humanity, God gave us an important principle for successful living. He wants us to prioritize the proper rest and restoration. God created the universe and then rested on the seventh day. God does not get tired but shows us that we should rest in him. In fact, one of the Ten Commandments states that we should take a Sabbath day. I often say that you can get more done in six days than in seven by trusting God’s grace. Resting in Him is the only way to true rest and rejuvenation.

This principle of giving God first place is found throughout Scripture. God wants to be first in our relationships, our time, and our finances. Without putting God first spiritually, we fail to experience the kind of physical restoration we so desperately need.

If you do not practice this principle, then you will take a vacation but you will not find any true rest. This ultimate rest is tied to worshipping and trusting God. It is easy to get out of the habits that help us during the summer. Your schedule is different. Your routines are different. As such, it is easy to stop doing the things that are vital to renewal.

This summer I want to challenge you to find real rest by staying faithful to worship God. How do we do this?

1.    Vacation but don’t quit.

Take a vacation but do not go on vacation from God. When you are in town, stay faithful to come to church and worship. It is often easy to lie in bed and skip this important part of your Christian life. Don’t allow your time away to become a bad habit of skipping church.

2.    Rest without walking away.

Make sure that you rejuvenate, but also determine that you will continue to serve during the summer. When you are away, find a replacement for your volunteer ministry position. I am not suggesting that you need to skip your vacation to serve at church, but I am saying that you need to serve during the summer when you are not on vacation. We certainly need you, but to be honest, you need it more. It is vital that you stay connected to your area of service and to the people in your small group and ministry team.

3.    Maintain your spiritual disciplines.

Stay faithful to read the Bible, pray, and give. Take time on your vacation to say thanks. I think it is incredibly powerful when you are at the beach, the mountains, looking at the stars, or spending time with family and friends to spend some time being thankful to God. When you are in “non-working mode” is a great time to reflect, and remember how good God is and what things are most important in life.

Be faithful in your giving. This is an incredible act of worship. You can automate your giving at www.avalonchurch.net. This helps you stay connected to God’s blessings and helps us maintain the ministry of Avalon Church even while you are away.

I hope you have a restful, rejuvenating summer!

Pastor Ritchie

                              

 

 

Why I Give (Even During the Summer) at Avalon Church

In addition to being the founding pastor of Avalon Church, I’m also a financially contributing member. I believe the Bible teaches that we should tithe the first 10% of our income. Kim and I have committed to bring the tithe and give offerings above the tithe. God has blessed us financially because of our giving. I truly believe you can’t out-give God. I think it is important to share with you some of the reasons why we do this.

First, I believe in the mission of this church. You have heard me say repeatedly that our mission is bringing people, wherever they are, into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m proud to be a part of a church that cares about reaching people who are far from God. I’m proud to be a part of a place where we minister to families, start churches around the world, help the poor and orphaned, and care about young people and children. Every time I hear a story about a changed life I know that my giving plays a part in that. People’s lives are being changed because many people at our church give. You simply can’t do ministry without money! Jesus said that our treasure would follow our heart, so because my heart is with this church, I want to support it financially.

Secondly, I want to be an example to my family and friends. This generation has more stuff and technology than any previous generation. Yet relationships and community are what they crave most. The only way they can experience lasting community is in a biblically functioning church. A church can’t exist and fulfill God’s mission in the world without people who support it financially. I can’t say that I love others and then spend 100% of my paycheck on my needs and wants.

Thirdly, I give because God commands me to give. In the Old Testament God commanded his people to tithe. In the New Testament Jesus talks a lot about giving and money. Paul writes about money when he states, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Every month, we automatically give to our church because it honors God. We want to honor God even when it’s difficult or when things are tight. There have been times that we’ve gone without something in order not to cancel our giving to the church. To be honest, I’d rob the mortgage company before I would rob God! It always amazes me that we have never suffered financially because we give, but have been greatly blessed because of it.

We normally give online or by text. We set up a profile on our website and chose to make our tithes and offerings automatic. It’s convenient and keeps us from forgetting. 

I want to encourage you to take the same step and automate the important by setting up your online giving profile at www.avalonchurch today.  Or you can set up text to give at 84321. You make a difference when you give. Thank you for giving and I hope you have the best summer ever!

Pastor Ritchie 

The Essentials of What We Believe

 

What you believe determines the direction and outcome of your life. The same thing is true about a church. What we believe about God, the Bible, Jesus, and God’s grace determines who we are. Religion is about rules, good deeds, traditions, restrictions, earning God’s favor, and looking moral. But that is not what Jesus died to accomplish. He came to redeem us and to set us free. John recorded in The Gospel of John, “The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

The driving vision for our church is, “Bringing people, wherever they are, into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.” If we truly believe and follow that vision, then we will create a culture that prioritizes reaching people with the gospel and helping them grow in their relationship with the living Christ.

We are far from perfect. We love to say, “Avalon Church is the perfect place for imperfect people.” However, we serve a perfect Savior. I truly believe we are trying to embody the following beliefs:

  • We believe the Bible is God-breathed and is to be taught, studied, read, believed, and obeyed.

  • We believe that what you believe about God is the most important thing about you.

  • We believe the only way of salvation and forgiveness is through faith in Jesus Christ.

  • We believe that Jesus Christ is to be the center of the Christian life and that Christians are to live out the Gospel because Jesus is the virgin-born, sinless, Son of God who purchased our freedom by His death on a cross and His resurrection from the dead.

  • We believe that every Christian is to be a part of a local church and is to attend, worship, give and serve in love with other believers. Participation is membership. We are better together. It is not about you, it is about us!

  • We believe God’s grace is amazing and that it is the only way to grow, live, find freedom. That is why we embrace the messiness of real people coming to Jesus, no matter where they are.

  • We believe that God’s love living through us will change the world.

  • We believe that generous people are happy people.

  • We believe spreading the Good News is the job of every church and every believer. Inviting is evangelism.

  • We believe we should take Jesus seriously and everything else not so seriously.

If we guard these things, then we will be the church God designed us to become. We will be a light on a hill that points people to Jesus. In the end, that is all that really matters. 

Don’t Get Back Hair in Your Eyes

 

When you are not connected at Avalon Church, you feel lonely. When you feel lonely, you accept friend requests from people you do not know on Facebook. When you accept friend requests from people you don’t know on Facebook, you agree to meet a pretty dental hygienist for coffee. When you agree to meet a pretty dental hygienist for coffee, you are really meeting a 300-pound biker. When you meet a 300-pound biker, he takes you for a ride on his Harley. When you ride a Harley with a 300-pound biker, you get back hair in your eyes.

 

Don’t get back hair in your eyes. Come to The Next Step Class every Sunday at 9:30 to learn how to get connected at Avalon Church. You can sign up here

The Struggle for the Leader’s Mind

 

There is a battle for your mind raging around you every day. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (NLT) Every leader must fight the war no matter what leadership platform you have; parent, neighbor, spouse, manager, employee, business leader, or church leader. There are four big struggles we must deal with on a regular basis.

 

The Battle with Doubt

 

Satan used doubt as a weapon against Eve in the Garden of Eden. He deviously asked her, “Did God really say that?” He has used disbelief ever since. Although having questions is not a sin, disbelief is. Disbelief is doubting God’s Word, his promises, and declarations. Your enemy the devil will fill you with doubt if you do not use the shield of faith to protect yourself. Faith offsets the temptation to operate in unbelief. Faith is often tied to our words and declarations. Start speaking words filled with faith in God’s promises when you deal with doubt.

 

The Battle with Discouragement

 

I have never known God to use a discouraged person in a great way. We all get discouraged. But when we live there constantly, it affects us negatively. The opposite of discouragement is courage. Courage is necessary to advance, grow, win, and protect. The Bible tells us that King David, “Encouraged himself in the Lord.” When you feel the fires of discouragement, turn your heart toward Jesus. Read the Bible. Repeat God’s promises daily by memorizing encouraging scriptures. Pray. Talk to a friend who will lift you and help you.

 

The Battle with Distraction

 

Sometimes is it not sinful things that ruin our careers, family lives, or personal lives. It is a lack of focus. An army will not win a war if it has no focused battle plan or mission. A football team can’t move the ball down the field if every teammate is not on the same page, running the same play. Distractions can come in many forms. It may come from mission or vision drift, which happens when we fail to focus on our mission and don’t fight to stay on target with our cause. Other times it can come from trying to do too many things. Less is more when waging war against distraction.

 

The Battle with Deception

 

How can you know and follow what is true? Our culture offers many different versions of truth and many alternatives to absolutes. The problem with saying, “There is no absolute truth,” is that is an absolute statement. It can’t possibly be true logically because it is a self-defeating statement. I believe there is truth. Jesus said that he is the truth, and if you know the truth, then it will set you free. Many leaders become deceived when they stray away from the truth, whether it is truth based on your mission and vision, or whether it is a spiritual truth. The Bible speaks about many ways of being deceived. One of the greatest ways, however, is being deceived by our circumstances and doubting the promises of Jesus. Don’t doubt him. Don’t be deceived. Stay the course and you will win the battle for your mind.

 

 

 

How to Overcome Negative, Defeated, and Discouraging Thinking

 

Lasting change does not happen by changing your actions, but by changing your thinking. Change your thoughts and you change your life. We know this to be true intrinsically. For example, how many people have gone on a diet to lose weight? Through discipline and perseverance, they lost weight for a time. But as soon as they went off the diet, they gained the weight back. Often, they gained more than they lost! The only way for lasting change to happen in your health is to change your thinking. When you believe that your health, quality of life, and time with your family will be negatively affected if you don’t change your lifestyle, then you are able to make a permanent change.

The Bible is clear about how to change your thinking. It is not through self-effort, but through surrendering our minds to Jesus Christ. By surrendering our minds to him we capture negative, fearful, and defeated thinking and speak the truth of God’s Word over our lives by faith. By daily declaring God’s truth, we transform our lives. Changing your thinking leads to lasting transformation.

I believe that most Christians struggle with their thinking, and as a result, they speak things that are not true over their lives. For example, we often say things that are rooted in the lies of the devil rather than the truth of God’s Word. We say things like, “My marriage is hopeless, my kids will never serve God, I’ll never get out of debt, I can’t stop this habit or sin, that’s just the way I am, bad things always happen to me, my husband will never come to church with me, I’m not smart enough, I’m not disciplined enough, I’ll never have enough money, or I’m not good enough.” We believe the lies and reject the truth of God about our lives because of our circumstances. When we look at our circumstances rather than God’s declarations, we speak negative, hurtful, and defeated things.

The Bible teaches us that when we put our faith in the finished work of Christ, then God makes us a new creation. You are loved, accepted, and blessed in Jesus. Through Jesus, you have direction, purpose, and meaning in life. There is no barrier too great or challenge too difficult to derail God’s plan for you because of Jesus. You have every resource you need through Christ. You are not an accident and have been empowered by God’s grace. You are strong, loving, patient, faithful, joyful, and disciplined through the power of the Holy Spirit. You have energy and passion because of Jesus. It is God’s will to save people, so you can pray in faith for God to save your loved ones. When you begin to think in faith and speak in faith, then God transforms your life.

How can you begin to change the way you think and speak? The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:5-6 that we participate with the Holy Spirit to change what controls us.

“Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.” (NLT)

The key to a changed mind is transformation by the Holy Spirit and a surrender of our will to Jesus. There must be an agreement between our will and the Spirit. We must agree with God and fill our minds with the truth of God’s Word. The language of the world is worry, fear, doubt, and unbelief. It leads to death. The language of faith is the language of life. By thinking, speaking, and repeating words of faith, our lives are filled with life and peace.

What would your life look like if you began to think, speak, and repeat the kind of words that God blesses? It would be more positive. You would be happier. You would have more faith. You would give life to those around you. You would have better relationships. You would make a greater impact for Jesus.

I want to give you a prayer to practice this week. By saying this prayer at the beginning of each day you will begin to fill your life with faith. You will be declaring God’s promises over your life.

Prayer: Because of Jesus I am loved, accepted, and blessed. Through Jesus, I have direction, purpose, and meaning in life. There is no barrier too great or challenge too difficult to derail God’s plan for me today. I have every resource I need through Christ. I am not an accident and I have been empowered by God’s grace to face the day. I surrender my words, thoughts, and imaginations to Jesus. I have the energy and passion I need to please Jesus today. I will not let the enemy distract me through doubt or discouragement. Christ is my strength. I step into that strength now. In the name of Jesus, amen.

 

For more on this topic, listen to the messages from the series, “Think, Speak, Repeat.” You can access each message in the series at www.avalonchurch.net.

 

 

How to Create Margin and Survive Your Schedule

 

This time of year – the time between Easter and the end of school – seems to be one of the busiest times of the year. Spring Break. School programs. Prom. End of the school year. Ball games. Activities. Taxes. You get the idea. For most people life seems like a blur. James, the half-brother of Jesus, addressed this issue nearly 2000 years ago when he asked the probing question, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Even before cell phones, the Internet, and modern transportation, people struggled with margin and schedules. God wants us to make the most of our fleeting time.

You can either cram as much as possible into your life and create stress, chaos, fatigue, and frustration, or you can do what James suggested and live on purpose. As a young man, I bought into the belief that managing my time meant that I had to sleep less, get better organized, and work harder to please my taskmaster, the calendar. I thought that was the only way to squeeze every drop out of life. But the calendar lied. He deceived me while he slowly choked out my joy. He kept telling me that more is more. It is only when I discovered that less is more that I began to recover my joy and accomplish the things that matter most. What is the secret?

Get Centered

You are too busy not to spend time with God every day. This must be the first and most important commitment. Reading the Bible and praying each day is the one thing that will keep you centered and keep you from running off the rails. It helps you remember God’s grace in your life as he writes your story. It seems counterintuitive to the person with a crammed schedule, but it is necessary for a busy employee, parent, or entrepreneur. Spending time with God, whether in the morning, at lunchtime, or in the evening, is critical to your joy and success. It helps you live by grace rather than guilt.

Get simple

One of the great challenges for busy people is how to find time to fit it all in. Being organized helps, but the key to finding margin is not finding a way to fit in more stuff but learning how to eliminate stuff. This is where learning to say “no” is critical. You must determine what is most important in your life and schedule that first. Many busy people want to spend time with God, go to church, serve, participate in a small group, and spend quality time with their family. They just haven’t learned to say no to things that keep them from doing it. Your peace and joy come from what you say “no” to as much as what you say “yes” to. Committing to simplify your schedule creates the opportunity to live by a purpose. It is OK to say no.

Get focused

You must determine what is essential and pursue that wholeheartedly. The commitments you make must be meaningful, simple, and doable. I have often made the mistake of setting a goal or planning a schedule that was completely unreasonable. You must bring an intense focus to your planning. Decide what is most important and do that first. Everything else can wait.

Get scheduled

Most people begin with the schedule first. They do not take the time to ask hard questions or decide what is indispensable. Until you put God at the center of your day, commit to the essential, and learn the art of saying no, then you will fall victim to your schedule. Once you have made those critical decisions, then you can approach the calendar with confidence and make it serve you rather than you serve it.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed. Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Living by God’s grace empowers even the busiest person to create margin and live joyfully.

3 Rules for Defeating Giants

The story of David and Goliath has permeated the fabric of our culture to the point that this true story has become a metaphor for overcoming great odds. Not just great odds, but even slightly difficult ones like a basketball team beating another team that was marginally better. While one can draw that conclusion from the biblical text, that was certainly not the main point of the story.                                 

This story shows us about life, our relationship with God, who God is, God’s power, overcoming great odds through faith, and how God wants us to live. It shows the power of God not the power of David. David is a picture of Jesus Christ. He sacrificed himself for the unbelieving Israelites and defeated death and the enemy. He became the king of God’s people. All of this points to Jesus.

With that said there are many powerful principles that can be drawn from the story. One of my favorites is that David did not let his enemy set the rules for his life. Goliath, backed by the hordes of the Philistines, threw down the gauntlet to the Israelites, who had their own throngs of fighting men. Goliath said, “Let’s fight man to man.” Obviously, he wanted to do that because he was 9 & ½ feet tall, had the most advanced weaponry of his day, and had an armor bearer to boot. While it was common in that day to settle small skirmishes in that way, it was not common for large armies in a major conflict to do so. I’m still not sure why King Saul kowtowed to that demand. Nevertheless, Goliath’s challenge implied fighting Goliath’s way. You can tell by the introductory trash talk between David and Goliath that Goliath expected more. But David did not operate by the rule of intimidation but lived by the rule of faith. He came to Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones and a heart filled with faith in God. Don’t romanticize “little David’s” approach. A skilled man with a sling and a tennis-ball-sized rock was a formidable weapon. Properly slung it was like being hit with a small cannon ball. David, of course, won and the rest is history.

That brings me to the big application questions. Who is your enemy? And are you allowing your enemy to set the rules in your life? Here are three rules that will help you defeat the giants in your life.

Rule #1 – Faith in God Wins the Battle

The enemy wants you to live by the rule of doubt. He began this strategy in the Garden of Eden with Eve. He always wants you to doubt God’s words, God’s promises, and God’s wisdom. Do you live by doubt or do you live by the rule of faith? David lived by faith in God. It was the difference between defeating a giant and being bird food.

Rule #2 – Wear Your Own Armor

Even King Saul tried to get David to conform to his ways. He tried to get David to wear his armor. Perhaps it was the king’s personal armor or maybe it was from his armory. Most likely it was the king’s own armor, which tells us that David must have been a large teenager because the Bible tells us that Saul was “head and shoulders” taller than everyone else. The point is that David figured out quickly that he could either conform and die or walk in his own giftedness and win. God has made you with particular skills and experiences. You either conform to everyone else’s way or walk in the power of God’s gifts and blessings in your own life. 

Rule #3 – Favor Action, Attack, and Advance

David did not hesitate. He accepted the challenge and acted. Your enemy wants you to hesitate, to wait, to procrastinate, to find a more convenient time, or to ignore the challenge before you. He tells us to put it off and to wait for better circumstances. A few decades later David’s son, Solomon, wrote, “If you wait for perfect conditions you will never get anything done.” He probably learned this lesson from dear old dad. No doubt he heard the story countless times. It was enough for him, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to record this lesson in Holy Scripture.

Someone will set the rules for your life. You will either live by the rule of faith and follow God’s rules – the ones that lead to life and victory – or you will let your enemy set the rules for your life and go on to struggle and defeat. I hope you choose wisely and choose life!

The Best is Yet to Come!

 

I often say the best is yet to come for two reasons: 1) It is a faith statement that is rooted in God’s Word and God’s will, and 2) I really believe it! God is empowering us to reach and connect more people so that we can fulfill our vision of “bringing people, wherever they are, into a growing relationship with Jesus.” We are becoming an “everyday” church through Avalon 365. It has been exciting to see so many people receive Christ, get baptized, and attend the Next Step classes.  God is building our momentum and I believe the best is yet to come!

Easter weekend is the most important weekend on the Christian calendar. Jesus died and resurrected on Easter weekend and more people receive Christ on this weekend than any other date on the calendar. That is why it is important for you to be involved this Easter. Here are four ways you can make a difference on Easter weekend and be a part of the great things God is doing at Avalon Church.

1.    Show up.

One of the ways you can reach and connect more people is by showing up. Easter offers one of the greatest opportunities of the year for you to draw close to Jesus. Because of his resurrection, you will be reminded of God’s great love for you. The Easter services will be among the greatest we have all year. We have several opportunities for you to attend. Join an Upper Room Gathering on Friday at 7:00 PM at the church auditorium or in a small group. We will have communion and prayer for the weekend services. We will have services at 6:00 PM on Saturday and 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM on Sunday. I hope you will take advantage of one or more of these options by serving in a service and worshipping in a service.

2.    Bring someone.

Inviting is evangelism! Studies show that most people will come to church if someone invites them. Invite your friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. Grab a handful of invite cards and pass them out. We are praying for 100 people to receive Christ on Easter weekend at Avalon Church!

3.    Volunteer.

Don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference! Studies show that four people attend for every person who volunteers. The Bible teaches that serving precedes spiritual growth. We need you to be involved, people who need Jesus need you to be involved, and you need you to be involved! I would encourage you to serve in as many services as you can. You can make a difference!

4.    Bring a special offering.

We began talking about the Family Ministry Offering several weeks ago. Some of you have already given to it and I am so thankful. I am asking every person who attends Avalon to give something. Pray about what God wants you to give. This special offering will help us improve the environments in Avalon Kids and Avalon Students. It is an investment in reaching children and students! No matter what the amount is, pray and ask God to reveal to you what you should give.

I can’t wait to see you this Sunday. Let’s pray for a great Easter at Avalon Church! 

5 Commandments for Easter at Avalon Church

 

 

Last year I introduced the 5 Commandments of Easter at Avalon Church. I want to remind you again of how important this time of the year is.

Easter is approaching quickly and we are getting ready for a great move of God at Avalon Church. Since Easter is the time of year when more people visit a church and more people get saved than any other weekend, we must be on our “A Game” at Avalon Church. With that in mind here are 5 Commandments for Easter.

1. Thou Shalt Not Ignore A Guest (or anyone else).

We must all take responsibility. Reaching and connecting people requires that all hands be on deck. This is not just for our Guest Services ministry; it is for all of us. We are better together! Having a good attitude will help our guests take their next step. So let’s be friendly, helpful, and welcoming. We are preparing and working for a great move of God, so let’s show everyone that we are prepared.

2. Thou Shalt Not Say, “I Don’t Care.”

It is OK not to know the answer to a question but it is never OK to say, “I don’t know.” Instead of pointing or shrugging, make sure to walk a guest to the check-in, the children’s area, or wherever they need to go. It is critical for people to feel loved and cared for when they arrive. Your actions say I care about you. If you don’t know the answer to their question, then take them to Guest Central. Offer to help carry their things. This lets people know that we truly care about them.

3. Thou Shalt Not Sit On The Sidelines.

Easter is the most important time of the year for Avalon Church. More people will come to Christ on Easter weekend than any other time of year. We need you to be involved. Invite people. Hand out invite cards. Invite friends, family, and neighbors. Commit join us and pray and at an Upper Room Experience on Good Friday. Attend Saturday at 6:00 PM and bring a guest. Attend and serve on 9:30 and 11:00 on Sunday. Serve somewhere. Let your leader know that you are available. If you don’t normally serve, this is a great time to start!

4. Thou Shalt Own It.

Owners take responsibility. Since you are Avalon Church we must all take responsibility and be involved. This is not just for the staff or the leaders. It is for everyone. This is a huge team effort and we will see a great move of God if we all get involved. Your language is important too. Don’t say “they” or “them” but say “we” and “our.” This is your church. Pray for it. Love it. Own it. I am asking every person who attends Avalon Church to say, “I care.”

5. Thou Shalt Expect God To Do Something Big.

Jesus said, "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22) Join me in praying and believing God for great things at Easter. Let’s pray for 100 people to be saved on Easter Weekend! That only happens if we all get involved and we all pray in faith. 

I am praying for a God-sized Easter. Let’s all pull together and watch God do something big!

Unplug And Connect With God

 

There are many blessings to all of our modern technology. I happen to like air conditioning, plane travel, television on-demand, and the Internet. It sure beats walking everywhere and sleeping in the woods. But on the flip side, there are curses that go along with technology. We are always connected. Every minute is filled with social media, cell phones, texting, music, and taking lots of pictures. How did we ever make it before we were able to post a low-quality picture of what you ate for lunch?

While there are many things to like about technology, there are challenges too. I will only focus on one. We are so connected that we are actually disconnected from peace, stillness, and silence. These elements are necessary to connect with God.

Psalm 46 is dedicated to “The Sons Of Korah.” Evidently, they were a special group of singers among the ancient Israelites. Their job was to connect us with God through song. The Psalm speaks of being connected to God, of his majesty, and our worship of him. In verse 10 it states, “Be still and know that I am God…”

Evidently being still is an important aspect of knowing God. In order to know and worship him better and experience his power and presence, we must take the time to be still. So what does it mean to be still?

 

BEING STILL MEANS FOCUSING.

Before you read the Bible and pray you must take a moment to focus your attention on God and ask for him to speak to you. This means you must take the time to disconnect from all of your technology and take a moment to prepare your mind.

 

BEING STILL MEANS WORSHIPING.

The most common word for worship in the Bible is a combination of two words meaning, “To kiss towards.” That is what you did to royalty in ancient times. It showed your submission, loyal service, approval, and undying love and commitment. If we are to have that kind of experience with God we must disconnect in order to connect with God.

 

BEING STILL MEANS ACQUIRING A PEACEFUL DEMEANOR.

I personally enjoy observing nature. It brings peace to my heart and mind. It reminds me that God is the Creator and he is in control. In the wild hustle and bustle of our days, we must take time regularly to still our minds and experience God’s peace. This is a great cure for worry!

 

BEING STILL INVOLVES STILLING YOUR MIND.

You can only quiet your mind as you turn off technology and begin to focus on God. Being still enables you to think, muse, reflect and meditate on God.

 

BEING STILL MEANS STANDING FIRM AND BEING STRONG.

I was actually kind of surprised when I learned that being still was not always about simply sitting but about being strong. It means that you stand firm in your faith. It means that you are strong in your belief about God. It is really helpful to know this when you experience difficulty or stress. God wants you to be still and stand strong in believing that he will come through for you.

Being still takes practice. You may fidget at first. Your mind may start to wander but don’t give up on learning to practice being still before God. Disconnect from all that distracts and connect with God. It is a life changing practice. It is a necessary tool to get to know God better. 

 

God’s Prescription For Negative Thinking

 

This past weekend I preached about overcoming negative thinking through our faith in Jesus. If you missed the message you can listen to it online at www.avalonchurch.net. This article is a follow-up to the message.

Have you ever been guilty of stinking thinking? I know I have. It is easy to go negative sometimes. But if God is in control, and I believe he is, then nothing in my life gives me the right to stay negative or discouraged. Negativity and discouragement are tools that the enemy uses to make us take our eyes off of God and live in defeat. The Apostle Paul asked the powerful question, “If God is for us who can be against us?”

Chances are that you will face some obstacles in the near future. That is the nature of life. Those obstacles will either crush you or give you the opportunity to exercise your faith in God. Here are four ways to stay positive in a negative culture.

1. Ask God to deepen your faith.

Your view of God affects everything you do. It certainly affects your attitude. Meditate on these verses and how they affect your faith and your view of God. Romans 14:23 “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Mark 9:23 “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

2. Commit to reading the Scriptures.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2 that we must let God transform our minds and our way of thinking. We do this by filling our minds and strengthening our faith through scripture. Romans 10:17 “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” 

3. See things from God’s point of view.

This is not the same as simply determining to be a positive thinker. Some people are hopelessly unrealistic in their outlook and never even come close to reality. They simply think “happy thoughts,” as if this magically makes things better. Seeing things as God sees them is a faith commitment to believe God and his promises. Not all things are positive but the outcome will bring glory to God when I acknowledge that God is in control. God will help me when I trust him. Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the Lord and then your plans will succeed.” Matthew 7:7 “Keep on asking and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened.” Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

4. Surround yourself with the right people.

If you surround yourself with negative people, then you will be influenced by their negativity. On the other hand, surround yourself with positive people who love God and watch your attitude get better! By the way, being actively involved in a small group at Avalon Church will help strengthen your faith and develop a positive outlook.

The Dirty Little Secret At Avalon Church

 

Avalon Church has a secret. You may or may not have noticed it. It is not always obvious to everyone. But it is there nonetheless. A few people know about it, but certainly not everyone. Are you ready for it? Here it is. Avalon Church depends on great volunteers!

Volunteers are the lifeblood of a local congregation. Without great volunteers, a church can’t fulfill the mission given to us by Jesus – loving people and bringing them into a growing relationship with Jesus. God designed the church to be a living, growing body, not an organization or club. That is why the Bible employs metaphors like a body, a flock, and a family to describe the church.

Volunteering has many benefits to you personally. Serving allows us to fulfill Jesus’ command to serve. It connects us and makes us feel like a part of a team. It helps us develop deep relationships. It fulfills us and gives an avenue to fulfill our purpose.

Serving matters. Serving God by serving others through a local congregation of believers is important stuff. It should never be just an add-on to our schedule but should be a priority in our Christian journey. Here are a few tips on how you can be a great volunteer.

Show up on time.

Treat your volunteer ministry as a priority. Showing up on time for your pre-service meeting is essential. This allows you to pray with your team and get ready to serve others. Not showing up on time says to others that you don’t take your job seriously.

Be prepared.

People need your best. Many people come to church needing Jesus or needing someone to care for them. Make sure to get plenty of rest the night before. Make sure that you look and smell clean. Brush your teeth!  Bad breath hinders even the greatest volunteer. Know your job description so you can be effective.

Pray.

Jesus said that we accomplish nothing of value without him. Make sure to pray and get in the right frame of mind to help others. Some people present a challenge and aren’t easy to love so you need God’s help!

Focus on others.

Remember that you are here to serve others. Chat with your friends after church. Make sure to be on the lookout for new people. Smile a lot.

Have a good attitude.

Your attitude should always be positive and friendly. Don’t just point people to where they need to go. Host them. Walk with them. Answer their questions. If you don’t know the answer take them to your team leader or a staff member. Never leave them with unanswered questions.

See the big picture.

The ultimate win happens when we serve and love others. A great program is good but it is not the vital win. Always be prepared to help outside of your area of ministry. Remember that the vision is for the whole church not just your particular area of ministry.

Recruit others.

You are a representative of Jesus and of Avalon Church. Your ultimate job is to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. Getting people connected to our church is a big step. But we don’t just want to get people in the door; we want to get them connected. One of the best ways to get people connected is to get them to serve alongside you. Recruit a friend to serve alongside you. Don’t depend on your team leader or the church staff to do all of the recruiting. Get excited and bring your friends along!

I believe Avalon Church has some of the greatest volunteers in the world. This past Sunday we had many new people sign up to serve.  I am so proud of all of you. Let’s make the rest of this year the best ever by being great volunteers!

 

Inviting People To Church Works!

 

Every Sunday at Avalon Church we experience the power of inviting others to church. Many people come to Christ because you invite them. It is amazing how God has used so many of you in the past couple of weeks to bring others to hear the gospel!

A young man got saved two weeks ago in one of our services. He received an invitation to our church nearly eight years ago! God has been working in his life and he remembered that invitation. Another family visited that had been invited seven months earlier at a HOPE event! Many others came to Christ because you invited them. Keep on inviting. Don’t give up or get discouraged. Sometimes it takes a while but if you keep on inviting, God will answer your prayers.

Many Christians get intimidated by sharing their faith. But conversations about the Good News should be natural and sharing your faith should be an organic experience.  Following what the Bible teaches brings great joy. Jesus told His disciples that when the Holy Spirit controlled them they would have great boldness.

The Bible shows many ways that people shared their faith. There is really no “bad” way to share your faith.  One of the most effective ways is to partner with the church by inviting others.  The church is your partner in bringing the Good News to your family, friends, and the world.  God never intended for you to be without a church family, and he never intended for you to have to bear the burden alone of spreading the Good News. 

Inviting Is Evangelism.

Everyone can invite someone to church. Philip was one of Christ’s disciples and he bought his friend Nathanael to Jesus.  He simply said, “Come and see what I have found.”

Inviting friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to attend a church service, a small group, or a special event is effective. Inviting comes naturally and does not require any special training. You simply ask. When you are excited about what God has done in your life, you want others to know your story. Invite them to hear the music, to hear a sermon series, to attend a special day or big event, to check out the children’s programs, or simply to come to church and have lunch with you afterward.

Don’t stop inviting people. God will use you to make an impact and to reach people! Inviting is evangelism! We saw it this past Sunday. Keep up the good work!

Solving The Marriage Communication Puzzle

 

Does it ever seem like men and women use the same words and yet speak totally different languages? Welcome to the world of marriage. You must understand that men and women speak differently…and that is OK. God actually designed it that way for a purpose. Learning to build your marriage on the foundation of God’s grace will help you become a better communicator.

Husband and wife are to be one in Jesus. Understanding this can help you navigate the sometimes-rough waters of marriage. God has made men and women different. We all know that. Truthfully, the differences are what attract us to each other. But in the same way that the differences can attract us, they can also frustrate us. They can cause friction in a marriage.

The Hebrew word describing Adam’s creation means, “to squeeze out.” I think this helps us understand how a man operates and thinks. Men came from dirt and are more comfortable being dirty, hunting, and playing football. Men are often unrefined and crude. That may explain why a man will share a foul smell with another man and laugh about it.

Men handle and express emotions differently than women. I believe God has made men tougher on the outside and less connected to their emotions on the inside. They need to be this way to protect their family. They have a God-given aggression that is useful in providing for a family. This is important for a wife to know because she will then be able to appreciate the differences in the way he communicates and expresses emotions. Just because your husband does not cry during a commercial featuring cute kittens does not mean he has no emotions. He just processes them differently than you do. 

When God created Eve he took her from Adam’s side. The Hebrew word used to describe God’s creation of woman means, “to build carefully and skillfully or to fashion her.” God seemed to take a little more time and care in creating woman. A woman, by nature of how she was created, is naturally more refined than a man. Women love to be pretty and clean. They communicate differently. They love pretty things. They are tougher on the inside than a man because they are more emotionally connected than a man. Although this is different than the way a man is made, it is equally important. Women are the emotional glue that holds the family together. They are more in touch with their emotions because they need to be in order to bring beauty into the marriage and mother their children. Women have a God-created skill set that men do not have. It is beautiful and necessary for a Jesus-centered marriage. Women are emotionally stronger, more intuitive, and softer on the outside than men. Thank God! It is a part of his design.

As a pastor, I have observed that these differences are part of what makes marriage a beautiful mystery. They help make marriage delightful. But these differences in emotional expression, communication, and instinct can also be a source of marital conflict. Many marital conflicts stem from not understanding these differences. Only when Jesus is at the center of your marriage can you navigate these differences and live in joyous union.

By trusting God’s design for us, we can celebrate the differences between husband and wife and embrace them as a part of the glorious, mysterious union. The Apostle Peter admonished husbands and wives to live together “in an understanding way.” Learning the subtle differences between how men and women communicate will go a long way in helping your communication with each other. Women tend to use many more words in a day than men. Men tend to use fewer words. Women have an innate desire for deep communication. They love details! Men, on the other hand, tend to think that their actions speak for them and they usually require fewer intimate details.

I learned this early in our marriage. Kim is a naturally outgoing person. She loves to meet people and she quickly empathizes with them. She meets total strangers and quickly discovers details about their family, children, where they are from, and things I don’t even know about some of my friends! I  played basketball with a group of men for about two years. One day Kim asked me about them and I realized that I did not even know some of their last names, much less any personal details. I knew their first names and what they did for a living. I knew who had a good jump shot and who played tough defense, but that was about it. It blew her mind that I never had any deep conversations with any of them.

I think that illustrates the difference between the way men and women communicate. She has had to learn to understand the way I communicate. She has learned to be patient with me and has extended a lot of grace to me. She understands just because I tend not to be as detailed as she is, does not mean that I don’t care. On the hand, I have had to learn to pay more attention. I have had to learn to engage in deeper and longer conversations. She needs to have more conversation than I. God mandated that I learn to understand her and love her as Christ loves the church. We have both learned to understand each other better, and as a result, our marriage is stronger. We are learning to celebrate our differences.