How to Pray Effectively even When You are Busy

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Most Christians would agree that prayer is vital to the Christian life. I also think that most of us think that our prayer life could be better. Being more formal does not necessarily equal better. Matthew 6:7 states, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.”

Most of the Christians I know struggle with the feeling that their prayers are not quite as good as a “professional’s.” They think that pastors probably have a secret “Bat Phone” to heaven. It probably does not help that many pastors pray weird prayersin public.Why do some people draw out the word “God” and pronounce it “Ga-a-a-a-w-w-w-d?”  

The good news is that if you can talk to a friend, then you already know how to pray. Prayer is simply talking to God. It is aligning yourself under His authority and will. It is asking and receiving. Don’t think that God is too busy running the universe to hear your prayer. That is way too small an understanding of His power and ability and it does not give Him the credit He deserves for loving you. You can talk to God and you are free to talk to Him in the way that best fits your personality. Here are a few ideas to make prayer more accessible to you. 

·     Pray in the car.

I pray a lot while I am driving. Hopefully that is not because of my driving. I find that I can redeem my time and really connect with God while I am behind the wheel and alone in my car.  

·     Pray while you work out.

I have a hard time praying while sitting still. I find that my mind wanders. Praying while I am walking or running gets me connected with God and allows my mind to stay focused. I am a lot like the pastor with ADD/HD who prayed, “Our dear Heavenly Father, thank you so much for…oh, look! A bird!”

·     Listen to your prayer or read your prayer.

A few years ago, I wrote out a prayer list and recorded myself (on my smart phone) reading it out loud, pausing between each prayer request. I included Bible verses and promises as well to help guide me through my prayer. This is a powerful and convenient way to pray and stay focused. I also typed out all my prayer requests, Bible verses that I like to read for encouragement and building my faith, and the faith statements I like to pray daily. It has been a real boost to my prayer life.

·     Sit still and listen. 

I do not do this as often as I should, but I have learned that sitting still and focusing on God while not saying anything is a wonderful exercise and leads to some awesome times of prayer. 

Prayer does not have to be a daunting experience. You can pray more than you think you can by simply talking to God and being aware of His presence. What has your experience been? What works for you?

The Key to Getting More Things Done

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Full disclosure. I am bent toward action. My motto is, “Ready, aim, fire,” not, “Ready, aim, aim, aim, and aim some more.” It is true that we must plan well; however, many seem to get “analysis paralysis.” You can wait so long for perfect conditions that you never get anything done. The key to getting more things done is to act now! We like perfect leaders, perfect churches, perfect spouses, perfect children, perfect schools, perfect jobs, and perfect conditions. The irony is that even if those things existed, once we got involved, they would no longer be perfect! The bias should be toward action. 

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never sow anything and never harvest anything.” 

In other words, if you wait for perfect conditions you will never get anything done! Quit waiting for a perfect job, church, spouse, kid, or school and focus on making yourself better. Stop waiting to read the book, get the degree, lose the weight, exercise, start the business, do the project, paint the painting, read the Bible, or change your life. Plan as well as you can. Prepare the best you can. Then pull the trigger. There will never be a better time than now.

Stop Digging Up the Past and Look to the Future

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My very first pet was a cat named Puff. He was cool and aloof, and he liked me. He did not even scratch me when I held him by the throat. I did not know that I was choking him. He must have been able to sense the love.

One day Puff did not show up when I went outside to feed him. That was odd, because he alwaysshowed up at supper time. So, I broke THE cardinal rule that my mom had set for me – “Do not cross the creek for any reason!” I am not sure why that was such a big deal since the creek was only about six inches deep and about a yard wide. But my cat was missing so I took my Indiana Jones self, put on my cowboy boots and my favorite pair of shorts and crossed the creek and prepared myself for the long journey to the tobacco barn. It was about fifty yards away. 

What I found inside the dark, musty old barn was a revelation to me. Lying there on the floor was Puff! Puff was a perfect name for him too, because he was all covered with soot and was a lot fatter than usual. In fact, he was about to burst. Pleased with my discovery and confident that my mom would be proud, I grabbed the bloated feline by the tail and dragged him down the hill, across the creek, and up to the step by the back door of our house.  “Mom,” I shouted proudly, “I found Puff!”

I wish you could have seen her face. It was a mixture of horror, disgust, confusion, and prayerful reflection, as in, “Oh God, why me?” She was very spiritual. Mom did the best she could to explain death, that Puff was no longer with us, and that I should immediately, but gently, drop the cat before it exploded all over my favorite cowboy boots. She did a great job as the undertaker/minister. Finer words have never been said over a dead cat. Puff was buried with grace and dignity. My mom thought it was over. 

Nope. 

Imagine her bewilderment when I came to the back door about three days later and asked, “Why are there worms in my cat?” Now there is a Hallmark moment for you. I had such a positive influence on my mom. She prayed in my presence a lot. She was always saying, “Dear God.” She was such a good role model. 

You need to quit digging up things too. Past hurts, past failures, and past sins need to be buried under the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ and left there. Digging them up always stinks. It shackles you to your past rather than to your future. Everybody has past hurts, failures, and sins. Acknowledge them, ask for forgiveness, release forgiveness to others, and leave them in the past. God only uses broken people anyway. Being broken makes you depend on God and helps you understand others better. Burying the past heals the cracks in your life and allows you accomplish God’s mission for your life. 

So, let’s stop digging up past hurts, failures, sins…and cats. Everybody will be much happier, and it smells better.

How to Handle Stress and Remain Calm

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I have lived in the metro area of Atlanta since 1995. When my family first moved here, I was not used to the insanity of the traffic. I grew up in the bucolic, open spaces of the mountains of North Carolina. Where I learned to drive – Mt Airy, NC - is literally the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show. After living here for nearly a quarter of a century, I now drive faster, more aggressively, and find myself with far less patience on the roads. 

Not long after moving here, I was driving on I-75 and saw a car with a Christian bumper sticker that read, “Honk If You Love Jesus.” In my naiveté I thought that was an invitation to be friendly, so I pulled up beside the car and blew my horn. 

Imagine my surprise when the frazzled woman glared at me and flipped me off! She shot me a bird. She gave me the one-fingered salute. She gave me half a peace sign. She should remove that bumper sticker from her car if she doesn’t like good Christian horn-blowing. 

I can give her the benefit of the doubt because I have certainly felt stressed out before. When you feel the blood pressure rising, the veins popping out on your forehead, the nostrils flaring, and your middle finger twitching, here are a few things to try. I believe they will help. 

·     Breathe. 

Sometimes just breathing deeply can release and reduce stress. In. Out. Repeat. When you feel anger swelling within your breast, just breathe. 

·     Give thanks.

Whenever I feel frustration building, I can either give into it and let anger rule me or I can start thanking God for all he has done. Being thankful helps release your frustration more than you can imagine. Start thanking God for as many good things as you can think of and then thank him for the situation that frustrates you. He gets glory from this. The Bible tells us to give thanks in everything. Being thankful works. You can start by thanking God for Jesus, salvation, grace and lots of his blessings. Rather than getting frustrated by traffic, thank him that you have a car and a job. You will start feeling relief immediately. 

·     Make a joyful noise. 

Psalm 100 tells us, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” Singing out loud to the Lord is what the Psalmist had in mind. Try singing and being thankful. It helps. 

·     Let it go. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to us and said that we should give all of our cares and burdens to the Lord because he cares for us. Determine in your mind to release your stress and problems to the Lord. You will be much happier, and your drive time will be much more tolerable. And when someone honks their horn at you, you will wave with all five fingers.

 

Five Things Every Dad Should Do with his Kids this Summer

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Father’s Day was yesterday, and I challenged our dads about their greatest responsibility as a father. If you missed it, you can listen to our podcast or check out the message on Facebook. As a follow-up to the message, here are a few things scripture challenges every dad to do. 

1.   Be a good example. 

Proverbs 22:6 states, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”(NLT) Some dads take the approach, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That never works. Direct your children by being a good example. One of the best ways to do this is to bring themrather than send themto church every week.

2.   Spend time with your kids. 

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.”(NLT) The point is that you must teach them about Jesus in the normal rhythms of life. The only way possible to do that is to spend time with them regularly. 

3.   Point your kids to Jesus. 

Psalm 127:4 tells us, “Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.”(NLT) Dad, you are a warrior. You must lead, provide, and protect your children. Your children are like arrows. An arrow can only fulfill its purpose when it is pointed to the right target and released at the appropriate time.

4.    Be the Influencer-in-Chief. 

Ephesians 6:4 instructs us, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”(NIV) This verse is very clear. Fathers must influence their children by leading and teaching them the ways of the Lord. You are the greatest influence in their lives! 

Fathers make sure to use the short time God has given you while your children are in your care to make a difference in their lives. Use your time this summer to be the best dad you can be!

 

 

 

Avalon Church Online is Now Live!

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I am so excited that we are now able to offer you a way to worship with us, even when you are out of town or have to work on Sundays. We recently launched Avalon Church Online. We now stream our services live on our Avalon Facebook page. If you “like” the page, it will send you a notification when the live streaming is about to begin. Not only do our services stream live, they are also available for viewing until 11:59 PM the same day. During live streaming you can post a comment, fill out a Next Step Card, and give by clicking the description. 

Not only is this a way for you to worship and stay connected when you are unavailable to attend, it is also a great way for you to invite friends and family to experience Avalon Church. Tell your friends and family about it. Invite them to join us on Avalon Church Online!

 

What Pastors Do During the Week and How You Can Pray for Them

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People often ask me, “What do you do during the week?” That is an honest question since most people only see the work that a pastor does by speaking way too long on Sundays. 

The purpose of this blog is to encourage you to pray for your pastors and church staff and to learn how to encourage them in the best way. The Bible teaches us to pray for our pastors, leaders and even our government officials. Ephesians 4 tells us that pastors are a gift to the church. Pastors teach God’s Word, lead spiritually, guide, pray for people, counsel, proclaim the gospel, help families, and many other things that help people connect with God and grow in their relationship with Jesus. (1 Timothy 5:7; Hebrews 13:17; Galatians 6:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Corinthians 9:11, 14; Philippians 1:3-5; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:2; 2 Timothy 4:2) 

So, what do pastors actually do during the week? It is common for people to think that pastors sit around high-fiving angels, listening to worship music, and playing golf all day. Pastors are accountable to God for the people they lead. They are held to a higher standard and often feel the pressure of criticism. It can be intensely personal and emotionally draining leading a church. Think of running a church like running a business (like where you work), running an educational institution (we teach birth through adults every week), managing a volunteer organization (like the Red Cross), and a running a counseling center all in one. Then think about a time that you had to give a speech in front of lots of people… and your job depended on it. Then think about doing that every single week. My purpose is not to impress you with our work ethic but to get you to pray for our church staff. Our staff works really hard to serve Jesus by serving you. 

Here are just a few things that pastors (and church staff members) do every week. 

•          Prepare sermons and lessons – I normally spend at least 15-20 hours per week doing this

•          Meetings – staff meetings, planning meetings, deacon and elder meetings, ministry team meetings

•          Plan weekly services

•          Practice music for the services

•          Plan technical, sound, and visual items for services

•          Do long term planning for sermon series and outreach

•          Recruit and train volunteers for all the different ministries

•          Manage small groups

•          Write lessons for small groups

•          Follow up with guests

•          Write letters 

•          Plan advertising

•          Work on area-wide mail-outs and evangelism strategies

•          Manage budgets for each ministry

•          Pay bills, prepare financial reports, manage funds, deal with banks, and set up financial counseling

•          Budget projections, comparisons, and forecasting

•          Enter contributions for each person

•          Plan weekly student services

•          Recruit and train youth leadership

•          Hospital visitation, funerals, weddings

•          Marriage and pre-marital counseling, financial counseling, family counseling

•          Work on, shoot, prepare, and edit service videos and online content for Avalon Church online

•          Baptism planning

•          Follow-up with those who receive Christ

•          Help people take their next step, Next Step Classes

•          Prepare all church communications including websites, in-service communications, blogs, e-mails

•          Prepare sermon podcasts and video broadcasts

•          Manage the church website and social media and prepare, shoot, and edit service videos, and visuals

•          Work on sound, lighting, and video equipment

•          Respond to complaints

•          Data entry for new members, visitors, baptisms, salvations, and other decisions

•          Manage purchase orders and requests

•          Run a business office

•          Manage the church office

•          Manage the church calendar for church-wide events and individual ministry events

•          Manage and maintain the facilities

•          Background checks for nursery, preschool, and children’s workers

•          Buy and choose curriculum for preschool and children’s ministry

•          Leadership development

•          Plan for major events like Easter and Christmas

•          Children’s ministry planning

•          Missions planning

•          Set designs for new message series

•          Printing

•          Computer work

•          Vision casting

•          Prayer

•          Writing for emails, lessons, books, and other teaching content

I could go on, but you get the point. There is a lot of work to do and all of it would be in vain without many volunteers as well. There is no way our church staff could do this without you. It takes hundreds of volunteer hours to pull off a service at Avalon Church. That is why it is so important that you volunteer! 

Pray for our pastors and church staff. Pray for their families, their leadership, their encouragement, their protection, their health, their finances, and their growth. When you have the chance, let them know how much God has changed and blessed your life through their service. It will be a HUGE blessing to them and will encourage them to continue to serve Jesus by serving you. 

 

 

 

How to Turn a Bad Day into a Good Day

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If you are old enough, you probably remember the old Michelob commercial that famously said, “Some days are better than others.” I think it is fairly reasonable to concur with that statement. Some days sure seem to be better than others. Pay day is better than the day before it. A vacation day at the beach is better than a twelve-hour day at work. Graduation day is better than the day a research paper is due. Of course, these kinds of days are all about your circumstances. We must learn how to live above our circumstances and to choose joy. So, how can you turn a bad day into a good day? I think the Bible gives us answers. 

1.     Remind yourself of what you believe.I think it starts there. What you believe affects your thinking and your actions. Your view of God affects everything you do. It certainly affects your attitude. I like to rehearse several faith statements each day at the beginning of my day. It helps me remain focused on my faith and remain positive. Hebrews 11:6 states, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Mark 9:23says, “Anything is possible if a person believes.” It is important to remind myself of what I believe so that when tough times come, I am able to combat the negative spirit that can easily overtake my mind. 

2.     Read the Bible regularly.The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2 that we must let God transform our minds and our way of thinking if we are to please him. The only way to transform your mind and shape it in the way God wants is for you to fill your mind with his word and meditate on it by reading the Bible and listening to sermons that explain the Bible. Romans 10:17 reminds us, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” One of the best ways to fight against negativity is to combat it with truth from God’s Word. 

3.     Use the power of words.You and I need to learn that our words have power. Solomon wrote that there is life and death in the tongue. We speak life or we speak death. This is not the same as just being a positive person. Some people are hopelessly unrealistic in their outlook and never even come close to reality. We must commitment to remaining positive because you have developed the mental and spiritual toughness to believe God and his promises. Not all things are always positive, but the outcome can bring glory to God, so I will remain positive because I know God is in control. There is a tension here between two concepts in the Bible. One is that God is sovereign, and he controls everything (which he does). The second truth is that I must work hard and make wise choices (which I must). I will speak either faith or doubt, life or death, fear or confidence. 

Mark 11:23-24 “I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, 'Go, fall into the sea.' And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you.”

4.     Surround yourself with the right people. If you surround yourself with negativity and negative people, 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!

I hope that you will turn your bad days into good ones, cloudy days into sunny ones, and gloomy days into happy ones. Keep your eyes on Jesus and you will do it!

 

Here’s a Story about Why We Do What We Do

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It is always important to come back to “why” you do what you do. For me, that is easy to remember when I watch the people of Avalon. Seeing people get saved, follow Christ, grow in their faith, and make a difference always reminds me on the “why.” Recently, I was reminded of this in a very tangible way. Zack Moore and Mary Susan Milam got married a couple of weeks ago. It was a beautiful wedding and lots of work went into it. But what meant the most to me was watching the people involved. Zack and Mary Susan grew up in the student ministry at Avalon Church. Our volunteers poured into their lives. They both attended college and volunteered in Avalon Student Ministry. Today Zack is the student pastor at a church and he and Mary Susan are pastoring and pouring into the lives of others. Because someone invested in them, the gospel continues to be spread. Someone gave. Someone served. Someone made a difference and now they are doing the same. That kind of thing does not happen by accident. It matters what you do!

If you commit to attending, giving, and serving, then I believe that you will have a great summer. I certainly hope you get to spend some time away on vacation and get spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically renewed. But make sure that the time you spend disconnecting serves you by making you more connected to Jesus. Stay faithful while you are in town this summer. 

One way to stay connected even when you are out of town is by automating your giving.By automating your giving, you help Avalon Church maintain a strong commitment to our mission of bringing people, wherever they are, into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.This empowers you to make a difference even when you are away. 

Here’s why it is important:

  1. Automating your giving shows that you are serious about the gospel.By setting up your giving automatically, you make sure that your giving is consistent and faithful.

  2. Automation makes giving easier.  Let’s face it, when we are out of town, we are really busy and distracted. But by making your giving automatic, you make sure that you stay involved in the mission. It is great, and it is convenient!  

You can set up your giving automatically by going to this link: https://avalonchurch.churchcenter.com/giving.It is simple and easy and takes all the hassle out of giving.  

Or if you like the convenience of our text to give option, you can text this number (84321) and set up automated giving as well. 

I hope you have a great summer and get fired up for Jesus! 

From Burnout to Balance


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This past Sunday I talked about going from burnout to achieving balance in life. Burnout is an interesting concept. What is it? What causes it? How can you manage it? Burnout can be physical, mental, or spiritual. It can take a toll on you emotionally as well. 

We often experience burnout simply because we get tired. Not to oversimplify it, but often we fail to manage our schedules and get the proper rest. The result is weariness, which can lead to a feeling of burnout and stress. Being tired is normal. That kind of burnout can be managed with proper rest and scheduling

Sometimes burnout happens because we lack focus. When we lose our sense of purpose, we feel burned out. It causes us to be unthankful and affects our attitude. People often feel like quitting because they have no clear purpose, or they have forgotten why they do what they do. 

Here are a few simple things that will help you rebound from feeling burnout:

1)   Prioritize your relationship with God.

Even though this sounds cliché, it is the important to protect you from burnout. It can be tempting to neglect this important discipline when you are too tired or too busy. But making time to worship, pray, read the Bible, serve, and spend time with others in Christian community is critical to your long-term mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Sometimes just a quiet moment allows you to pray and reflect and gather your thoughts. Burnout is often a battle for the mind. 

2)   Simplify and control your schedule.

You must learn to say no to some things in order to say yes to better things. No is a powerful word and is necessary to avoid burnout. You must do the first things first and prioritize the important. This often begins by simplifying your schedule.

3)   Rely on God’s grace for your success.

I believe hard work, education, training, and determination are important. But these things are not as important as God’s grace. Learning to depend on God’s undeserved, unmerited, and unearned kindness and favor requires that we unlearn some of our human tendencies. Rest in God’s grace and then work. We work from rest not for rest. 

4)   Get help. 

Talk to someone. When you feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated, make sure to get help. Don’t try to handle it alone. Talk to a professional, a pastor, a mentor, or a friend. Being a part of a small group helps. It is in the context of community that you are able to get the support you need and the strength to climb out of the trap of burnout. 

 

 

Winning the War Against Worry



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We all struggle with worry. It comes with the territory of our fallen human nature. When you read the story of creation, you recognize that worry was not a problem before Adam and Eve sinned. They were in a perfect world, in a perfect relationship with God, and in a perpetual state of bliss. But once they sinned, they immediately began to worry. They recognized that they were naked and tried to cover their nakedness with human effort. Unfortunately, we inherited their fallen human nature and proclivity to worry. 

Worry damages us. Studies link worry to high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other maladies. Worry has a powerfully negative effect on our attitude and outlook. But it affects our spiritual lives even more. To put it bluntly, worry is a sin. Worry is the opposite of faith. God’s Word tells us that “whatever is not of faith is sin.”The Bible clearly states that God is pleased with our faith; therefore, it goes without saying that he is not pleased with unbelief, which is the root cause of worry. 

Let’s look at what three experts wrote about this. All three knew Jesus. All three became Apostles in the early church. All three faced daunting persecution and all three eventually died for their faith. The constant threat of persecution and death seems to me to be a pretty good reason to worry. But Peter, James, and Paul received God-breathed instructions on how to handle worry. What they wrote was meant for our instruction and spiritual development. 

Peter wrote, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT) 

Paul believed, “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.” (Philippians 4:6-7, MES)

And finally, James penned, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:6-8, ESV)

Here are a few transformative principles that will empower you to overcome the worries in your life, no matter how formidable they are. 

1.    Learn the art of the transfer. 

Give means, “to cast upon.” We are to cast our worries onto God. We are to transfer them like we would put a load of lumber in a truck. You wouldn’t carry building materials from the hardware store on your back. You would place them onto something that was designed to carry them. We must learn to transfer our burdens and worries to God and leave them there. You wouldn’t pick up the load of lumber halfway home and start carrying it. Give your cares to God and don’t take them back.

2.    Have a conversation with God about it. 

Pray about your worries and problems and then leave them with God. Notice that Paul said we are to turn our worries into petitions and praises. God certainly wants us to acknowledge our worries, but then we are to praise him for his love, strength, and goodness. The more we praise God for things in our lives, the less power they have over us. This allows you to keep Christ at the center of your life, not your worries. 

3.    Rest in God’s grace.

The overwhelming beauty of God’s grace is greater than any worry. He gives us his kindness and favor because he is good and generous. We don’t earn it and we certainly don’t deserve it. When we rest in his grace, we acknowledge his love for us. We rest in his power, knowledge, and purpose. His grace frees us from worry. When you worry, you are not at rest. When you rest, you will not worry.

4.    Constantly submit your life to God.

When we submit our life and situation to God, we can live in freedom. We no longer stress over things we can’t control. We act and live in faith. Being double-minded literally means to be of two souls. In other words, we trust in our strength one moment and God’s strength the next. We vacillate back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball. When we worry, we rely on ourselves. When we trust in God, we rely on him. In order to have the kind of faith that overcomes worry, we must have a singular mind and trust him. The more we trust him, the closer we get to him and the more our burdens shift to him. We must intentionally submit to God in the midst of our circumstances. You will not naturally do this. It must be an exercise of faith. 

You don’t have to worry. God wants you to give your worries to him so that he can carry them for you. He is stronger than you. He wants you to trust him and rest in his grace. Only when we do that can we live truly worry-free lives.

 

Be a Tree, Not a Weed

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Psalm 1:3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

This verse applies to all people, but especially to young people. Most researchers and commentators consider people born between 1980 and 2000 to be the Millennial Generation. I love this generation. I believe they have unique challenges and opportunities due to many factors, not the least of which is the growth of technology during their lifetime. I have three children born between 1989 and 1995. It amazes me that they do not know what it is like to be without cell phones, the Internet, Google, and social media. 

As a dad to three millennials and a pastor to many, I am genuinely excited for you. You have many opportunities that past generations never had at your age. Your world is quite different, your options limitless. But along with great opportunity comes great responsibility. 

I imagine every generation faces its own challenges that are unique to its place in time and culture. But particularly for your generation, because of the exponential speed of information available to us, there is a great temptation to take shortcuts to success. We are the instant millionaire, streaming video, Internet, Snap Chat, Instagram, and YouTube culture. Everything is bigger, faster, and more accessible, but not necessarily better. So here are a few ancient tips from King David that will help you establish a life that lasts and is significant like a tree, not fleeting and short-sighted like a weed.

  • Commit to being before doing

Don’t pursue “style over substance.” This is dangerous and can potentially be fatal. As a young person you must heed what the Bible says about personal and spiritual growth. Growth takes time and commitment. Jesus placed much more emphasis on who you arein him rather than what you dofor him. Jesus dealt rather harshly with the “style over substance” crowd. That is particularly important to practice in a social media culture.

  • Make a commitment to character first.

The Apostle Paul wrote that we should “lay hands on no man suddenly.” He was talking about not being too quick to appoint someone for a leadership position before they had a chance to grow and mature in their faith. He did not mean they had to be perfect, but that they needed to focus on growing in character and spiritual maturity first. That does not mean that there is an age barrier to leading or to spiritual maturity. There is no “Holy Spirit Junior” for younger people. Disciples are doers! I believe that Christians must begin serving in a ministry in the local church as soon as possible. His point is that you must develop character and spiritual maturity before you are put in the spotlight. This kind of thinking is the antidote to an entitlement mentality. 

  • Make a commitment to personal growth.

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. The only exception to that rule is Jesus Christ. As Christ-followers, we must make a commitment to spiritual and personal growth. I believe this means that we must pledge ourselves to spiritual disciplines, to learning and education, to reading, and to developing our minds, bodies, and personal lives. It is easier than ever to take shortcuts. But character matters. 

  • Make a commitment to The Church. 

Notice that I capitalized The Church. Jesus died for The Church. As a believer, you are a part of The Church. But that is not enough. We also need to be a part of the local church. It is easy in our time to watch and listen to church online and never really become a part of a local body. While online community is great and certainly has its place, we are designed to live in Christian community with real people. Believers crave the closeness and intimacy of genuine, transparent relationships. God, in his wisdom, has designed a perfect vehicle for you to experience this – the local church. There is no perfect church and every church has flaws. But until you make a commitment to die to self and commit to a body of believers, you will lack the true support mechanism you need to grow close to Jesus. Don’t be a “free agent Christian” who bounces around from place to place. Enjoy the benefits of church by embracing the responsibilities of being a part of the local church. 

  • Make a commitment to serve.

Studies show that millennials are up to ten times more likely to be depressed than their grandparent’s generation. I believe this is, in part, due to the “me first” philosophy that permeates our culture. When we have an attitude of entitlement rather than an attitude of service, we tend to get depressed because that goes against God’s purpose for living. 

In Luke 15, the prodigal son wallowed in misery and self-loathing because of a “me –first” mentality. Our culture thinks this is the way to happiness. But the “me-first” attitude led him to waste his life and opportunities. The road to the “me-first” life is a road to nowhere. It leads to dissatisfied living. We know that Jesus came to serve, not to be served. He served those who needed him most and those who hurt him most. 

  •   Be ancient and modern at the same time. 

I believe Jesus calls us to live out his purpose in the culture where we live. We must engage in the culture, love the people in it, and live above it at the same time. By being ancient, we follow Jesus, his wisdom, his ways, and live by the ancient and infallible truths of God’s Word. By being modern we engage the culture, embrace being fully human, and enjoy the beauty of God’s blessings while influencing the culture for Christ. 

You have great opportunities in this culture no matter how old you are. You can be great! But don’t buy the lies of enemy. Building the kind of life God wants for you takes time, commitment, and grace. Commit to become a tree that produces long-lasting fruit rather than a weed that is here today and gone tomorrow.  

 

The Problem with Easter


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I believe the biggest problem with Easter for many followers Christ is that it is not that big a deal to them. I am not suggesting that most Christians do not understand the importance of the first Easter. I believe followers of Christ must have a basic understanding of the gospel in order to be saved. They believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and they believe the finished work of Christ is necessary for salvation. The problem is that the further away they get from the time of their conversion, the more Easter becomes white noise. Once again, I do not suggest that they have no fondness for Easter. After all, many go to church, give, serve, and participate. It is just that it gets increasingly easier to lose the awe and wonder that is the gospel. It is easy to get so busy with things that pertain to Easter, that we forget about the essence, meaning, and wonder of how the God of the universe, God the Son, would leave heaven, become human, and not only die for our sins, but become them and absorb the wrath of the Father for all the sins ever committed or that ever will be committed by every human ever. 

The longer a person follows Christ, the more central Easter should become to him or her. But the truth is that while most believe it is important,many of us don’t prioritize it with our actions. We treat it flippantly sometimes. Can you imagine missing your child’s first birthday, or graduation from high school, or wedding just to take a vacation, a trip, or a cruise? I can’t. Yet, the most important event in the universe we treat as optional sometimes. Even if we don’t skip it, we can become very casual about the most important event in history. Nothing comes close to the meaning and importance of Easter. Without it, there is no salvation, no eternal life, no heaven, no abundant life here on earth, no joy, no peace, no forgiveness, no reconciliation with God, no purpose in life, and no hope. Yet we can get so busy doingEaster that we forget to remember Easter.

Here are four things I want you to consider this Easter:

1.    Reorder Your Focus

 Isn’t it easy to get so busy that we forget the true meaning of Easter? I want to challenge you to take time to focus on all that Jesus did for you when he died and rose again. I am not just talking about the physical and material blessings in your life. Those are important, but not the most important. Think about what Jesus did for us. Without Jesus, there is no salvation, eternal life, heaven, abundant life here on earth, joy, peace, forgiveness, reconciliation with God, purpose in life, or hope. Easter is a perfect time to renew your focus and thankfulness.

2.    Commit to Evangelism

Easter is the greatest time on the church calendar for bringing people to Christ. More people get saved on Easter than any other time during the year in most churches. Make an effort to be a part of that this year. Giving, serving, and participating is important and helps reach people, but inviting someone who needs Jesus is even better. Just imagine what you will feel like when you invite someone to church and he or she receives Christ. It will be incredible!

3.    Be Gospel-Centered

Easter is a great time to build your life around the gospel of God’s grace. You don’t earn, merit, or deserve salvation. Why would you think that the rest of your life should be built on your own good deeds? The truth is that the gospel is necessary to become a follower and it is necessary to grow as a follower. 

4.    Celebrate More

Sometimes I am guilty of not celebrating enough. I set goals and I work, plan, and sweat until I reach them. As soon as I reach the goal, I immediately shift my focus to the next one. That is not good. Celebration is a big part of God’s story. He and heaven celebrate every time a lost person is found. I have been to some pretty big celebrations in my life, but can you imagine what a celebration in heaven is like? I have to imagine that our best celebrations pale in comparison. The point is that we need to celebrate more. God is pleased with it and you are encouraged by it. 

I have examined my heart about Easter. There are some things I need to do better so that it does not become just another event on the church calendar. I hope you will examine your heart as well. Let’s make this Easter a really big deal. 

 

Why Children’s Ministry Must be a Priority



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At Avalon Church our vision is bringing people, wherever they are, into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We are about reaching people. We are about reaching people wherever they are. The church is to be a place that reaches people who need Jesus. It is a hospital for the sick, a lighthouse to protect us from the rocks, not a country club for insiders. Part of “wherever they are” includes children’s ministry.

Did you know that over 80% of people who receive Christ do so before their 16thbirthday? Think of that statistic. It is incredible. It also shows how incredibly important children’s ministry is. Here are a few reasons why you should serve in Avalon Kids:

1.    It is the most effective way to reach people for Christ. 

If you are serious about fulfilling God’s purpose to bring people to Christ, then children’s ministry is an obvious choice. It can make the greatest impact of all. 

2.    Children are a priority. 

Children are important to all of us. Their growth, health and development are priorities. But the greatest priority is their relationship to Jesus Christ. Children are important to us at Avalon Church. In my opinion, it is the most important ministry in the church. 

3.    Children’s ministry allows you to make an incredible impact. 

Think of how important the impact you make on a child is. You may influence a future president, senator, inventor, entertainer, athlete, business owner, doctor, lawyer, parent, missionary, or pastor. Think about that for a moment. Someone influenced Billy Graham. What if you influenced the child that would one day reach your grandchildren for Jesus?

4.    Children’s ministry brings out your creativity. 

Your creativity was given to you by God. You may not think you are very creative, but when you influence children, you become more creative and you think differently. 

5.    Children’s ministry helps you learn. 

One of the greatest ways to learn something is to be forced to teach it. It causes you to think. When dealing with children, you are forced to think outside the box because they ask so many questions. Sometimes they ask questions you don’t know the answer to and sometimes they ask questions that force you to restructure how you say things. That helps you know it better!

6.    Children’s ministry is fun!

Many people think that children’s ministry is no more than baby-sitting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Children’s ministry molds kids in the image of Christ and it is down-right fun!

7.    Children’s ministry gives great rewards. 

I have been in ministry long enough now to reap the rewards of seeing children become adults and follow Jesus on their own, not just because parents make them go to church. It is incredibly rewarding to have people come back and thank you for investing in them many years ago. 

I want to challenge you to pray for our children and our volunteers. They are the lifeblood of Avalon Church. Perhaps you will consider investing into our kids. While it is true that they are the future church, it is more accurate to say that they are the young church of today. 

 

Think Your Way to Success

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Roger Bannister, a British doctor, knight, and neurologist, died about a year ago at 88 years of age. Bannister is famous for becoming the first person to break the “four-minute-mile,” a feat at the time that was considered physically impossible. But on May 6, 1954 he ran the mile in 3:59.4. It was a record that did not stand very long. Several runners over the next year broke the four-minute barrier. Today the world record for the mile stands at an astonishing 3:43.13. 

What is outstanding about Bannister’s amazing accomplishment is not the physical accomplishment, but the mental accomplishment. To be sure, running a mile in less than four minutes is an amazing physical feat, but it was the mental achievement that launched him to his goal. He had to break through mental barriers to reach his potential. I believe the same is true for you. We must break through our doubts in order to reach our God-given ambitions. Here are five keys to breaking mental barriers and doubts.

Faith Fuel

Obviously, one must have faith in order to reach a goal. We must believe in the mission and in ourselves in order to break through. This is true from a physical perspective, but it is particularly true from a spiritual perspective. Faith in God, His Word, His Plan, and His Promises is not the same as believing in oneself or self-confidence. We must go from self-confidence to God-confidence. Nevertheless, faith is the starting point. If faith is critical, then we must learn to fuel our faith. There will be times when our faith is weak. The key here is to fuel our faith with the Bible and God’s promises because, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” 

Perseverance

Perseverance gets a bad rap in our culture. I am an extreme grace guy, because I believe God’s grace is exceedingly abundant and powerful. It is the finished work of Jesus, not my efforts, that makes me whole and delivers me to the place I need to be. But perseverance is a fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit grows patience, faithfulness, and self-control in our lives. Perseverance is a critical component of successful living of any kind. When seeking to overcome mental barriers, we must persevere, just like Roger Bannister did. 

Mind Fuel

What you put into your mind determines how you think. How you think determines how you believe and live. You must get the right kind of fuel in your mind. When trying to overcome a mental barrier, it is essential to fill your mind with good things. Read good books that educate and encourage you. Listen to podcasts. Read blogs. Get training. Make sure that you connect with the stories of people who have already had success. These kinds of things fuel your mind and give you the strength to continue. 

Encouragement

The Bible says that King David encouraged himself in the Lord. Encouragement is essential. I have never seen a greatly discouraged person achieve his or her goals. Encouragement comes from filling your mind with God’s promises in the Bible, repeating them often, prayer, and surrounding yourself with the right people. If you surround yourself with doubters, naysayers, and negative people, you will get discouraged. Find someone who will speak truth and encouragement into your life. 

Support

 Support comes from having the right people in your life, as we just discussed. To take it a step further, you must have the support of a team. The saying, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” may be a cliché, but it is true. Strong support is necessary for you to succeed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be willing to receive counsel. Be willing to talk to a mentor. Open yourself to the support of others and you will be more empowered to overcome the mental barriers that keep you from your dream. 

 

Remember the Why

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 Remembering why you do what you do is essential to the success of any organization. The what and how are important, but the why is the most important. This is true of restaurants, technology companies, and car dealerships. It is especially true of a church. 

At Avalon Church our why is bringing people, wherever they are, into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. We exist to reach people for Christ. We exist to reach all kinds of people, even those who do not look like us, live like us, or believe like us. We exist to bring every person we reach into a growing relationship with Jesus.That is why we say, “Your next step is your most important step.”  

Here are a few things to remember about our vision:

  • We must stick with it at all times and in every ministry. The path to reaching the vision - the programming and plans - will change from time to time. The vision, however, must always stay the same.

  • We must own it. It takes a team. Everyone must do his or her part. My goal is for all the members of Avalon is to own the vision so we can live it together.

  • I have to repeat it often because vision leaks. Just ask people who come to our church to articulate the vision and you might be surprised at what you hear. It bears repeating…often.

  • It determines our philosophy of ministry. Everything we do must be seen through the lens of our vision. Every ministry. Every program. Every event. Vision drives everything. That is why we do church the way we do - music, programming, and preaching. 

As we approach Easter @ Avalon, I hope you will remember why we do what we do and why we ask you to get involved. This is a great time to carry out the vision together so we can reach many people for Christ. 

5 Commandments for Easter at Avalon Church 

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Each year I try to remind you that we must be at our best for Easter @ Avalon. 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 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 Next Step Central, the restrooms, 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 Next Step 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 to join us at the Good Friday service at 7:00 PM for prayer and communion. Attend Saturday at 6:00 PM and bring a guest. Attend and serve on Sunday at 9:30 and 11:15. 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,you must 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!

 

 

Affair Proof Your Marriage

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This past Sunday I talked about the Principle of Intimacy and how to protect your marriage. This is a follow-up blog to the message. 

 

In 32 years of fulltime ministry I have observed that the percentage of Christians who have affairs is not significantly different than the percentage of non-Christians who have affairs. Whether you are a Christian or not, having an affair is a bad idea. Here are seven principles that will teach you how to avoid this devastating mistake.

1.     Be aware of your vulnerabilities.  

Ego and a lack of self-awareness lead to a dangerously susceptible mindset. We must be aware of our vulnerabilities if we want to avoid having an affair. The Apostle Paul warned us to “consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.” One of the first steps to avoiding an affair is to acknowledge your vulnerability and build boundaries. 

2.     Be aware of the effects of an affair. 

Affairs are devastating and painful. They devastate families, children, and finances. Affairs are crippling emotionally and create future trust issues. It is impossible to duplicate the “feelings” of an affair over a long-term relationship. It also violates a sacred trust. Hebrews 13:4 states, "Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband."

3.     Understand God’s purpose. 

Every command in the Bible is rooted in God’s love for us. They were never meant for your pain but for your protection, pleasure, and joy. Sex was God’s idea and He made it for His purpose and our benefit. 1 Timothy 4:4 states, "For everything(even sex) God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected, but all is to be received with a prayer of thanks." (GN)

4.     Increase your emotional intelligence. 

1 Peter 3:7 states,“In the same way, you husbands should live with your wives in an understanding way…” This is very practical for married couples. Peter was saying that it is possible to learn about the emotional needs of your spouse. It does not need to be such a mystery. 

5.     Prioritize your commitment. 

Anything that is neglected gets worse. This is true of your health, your finances, your business, or your golf game. It is especially true of your marriage. Don’t be guilty of thinking that you never have to work on your marriage. It, like everything else in life, is vulnerable to inattention and carelessness. I believe the most important commitment in marriage is your commitment to God. You are meant to be in church together, to give together, and to serve together. Being involved together in regular worship, service, and small group community is critical. Do people who do these things ever have affairs? Yes, but not nearly as often. Committing to God’s values means worshipping and obeying him. Psalm 119:9 states, “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word and following its rules.”

6.     Guard against temptation.

You must establish the kind of boundaries that will keep you from giving in to temptation. Temptation is not a sin, but exposing yourself to constant and needless temptation is unwise. One of the best ways to avoid having an affair is to work on your sex life in your marriage. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:7,"Do not cheat each other of normal sexual relations, unless you both decide to abstain temporarily to make special time for prayer.  But afterwards you should resume relations as before, or you will expose yourselves to the obvious temptations of Satan."

7.     Confess your sin. 

The beauty of the gospel is that Christ traded his righteousness for my sin. No matter the sin, forgiveness is available in Christ. Confess the sin of neglect. If you have had an affair, stop it, get help, get accountable, and confess it to God. One of my favorite verses in all the Bible is 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You can have a blessed marriage. You can’t have a perfect marriage, but you can have a happy and blessed one. Work on these principles and you will affair-proof your marriage and be well on your way to the kind of marriage that God blesses.  

Showing Honor

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Romans 12:10 states that we should “outdo one another in showing honor.” I love that. We should go out of the way to honor others. Remember, honor is given, while respect is earned. Showing honor is something that we should practice no matter how we feel about a person. 

I spoke about the principle of honor on Sunday. When I think about people who deserve honor and who have played an integral part in the success and growth of Avalon Church, the list is very long. I think about the families that helped us start the church from day one. There are a couple of families that are still here serving and making a difference. In fact, one of our staff pastors, Justin McIntyre, was a teenager when we started the church and his family was one of the original founding families. Neil and Bonnie Gardner were also there at the beginning and they are serving as short-term missionaries in Indonesia until May. I believe that our elders and deacons deserve honor for their commitment and involvement. Our staff deserves honor for all of their contributions. Our volunteers especially deserve honor because they make this place run. All the generous donors deserve honor. Without them, none of this is possible. I could mention many others. 

One person that I believe deserves special honor is my wife, Kim. So often the lead pastor or the founding pastor gets a lot of accolades, whether it is deserved or not. But I can honestly say that our church would not exist without Kim and her tireless involvement and her tremendous sacrifice. She is not only the co-founder of Avalon, I believe she is the heart behind our church. She has worked tirelessly for thousands of hours when no one was looking. She has carried the burden, the love, and the passion for this church day and night, week in and week out. She has encouraged and supported me more times than I can count. I can truly say that if not for her, I would have quit a long time ago. She shares my burdens and pains, cheers me up and cheers me on, loves the people of Avalon deeply, prays, leads, teaches, encourages, prods, and invests in others. She has a heart for the hurting and the down-and-out. I have never seen a person who truly cares more for those who could never pay her back. She is a leader, a true Christ-follower, an example for all, a tireless worker, a true friend, an encourager, and, best of all, she is my wife. I would not trade her for a thousand others. Thank you, Kim. As King Lemuel wrote in Proverbs 31, “your price is far above rubies.”

Celebrate the Win with Us!

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No matter who you were rooting for in the Super Bowl, we all shared in a big win at Avalon Church on Football Sunday. It was a great day in every aspect. First of all, we saw 20 people receive Christ as their Savior and 10 people follow Christ in believer’s baptism! What a win that was! In addition, the energy was great, the attendance was tremendous, and your participation was off the charts. I want to say a HUGE thank you to our panelists, Chris Edwards, Josh Gordy, and Robert Edwards. Your stories were uplifting and Christ-honoring. I can’t wait until next year!

Of course, the win for us is not just special days but every Sunday. When people take their next steps – salvation; baptism; joining the church, a small group, or a ministry team; reading the Bible; praying; growing in generosity; inviting others to church; stepping into leadership; and many other steps – we all win. I want to thank you for your faithfulness. Without your faithfully taking your next steps every week, we would not experience what God is doing in our church right now. The best is yet to come!

I hope you will join us this Sunday at Avalon Church. I will continue our series God’s Rules for Better Relationships.I will deal with the principle of honor. This is a huge need in our culture today. How can you bring honor even when you don’t feel honored? What does God promise to do for you when you honor others? You won’t want to miss this important and helpful message.  

I love you and I will see you on Sunday!

 

Pastor Ritchie