How to be a Volunteer Superhero in 2018

INVOLVE_Master.jpg

 

 

A hero is someone who displays courage, makes extraordinary achievements, and is a role model for others. You can be a hero in 2018 by being a volunteer at Avalon Church! I believe all of our volunteers are heroes, but there are some that are superheroes because of the way they lead, the boldness they display by serving, the lives they touch, and the discipleship model they display to others. You may not know it yet, but there is a superhero in each of us!

To reach your potential and maximize your influence, I believe that attending Involve is a must. “What is Involve,” you ask? It is the special vision-casting, training, and appreciation gathering from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM at Avalon Church on Saturday, January 20th. We will have a powerful time of worship. I will bring a special message that is exclusively for those who want to step up, have a great year, take new ground, become a better leader, get inspired, and get filled with purpose and direction for 2018. This motivating and encouraging message will be exclusively for those at Involve. It will not be recorded, it will not be posted, and it will not be repeated. I really want you to hear it and you really need to hear it! The main part of the gathering will be our ministry-specific breakout sessions. We will offer several different options for you. Obviously, you will want to go to the training associated with your ministry, but you can check out others as well. At the end of the gathering, we will have lunch and will present our “Avi Awards” for our volunteers of the year.

Involve is not just for people who currently volunteer in a ministry at Avalon. It is also for anyone who wants to check it out and for anyone who is considering serving and volunteering in a ministry. I hope to see you at Involve!

 

Pastor Ritchie 

Setting Yourself Up for a Great 2018

TakingGround_Master.jpg

 

The New Year is a natural time to find a fresh start. In 2018, our theme will be “Taking Ground.” My goal for you and our church is to get a clearer understanding of who Jesus is, to trust more in His grace, to deepen your faith, to live in God’s abundance without fear, and to live with the kind of peace that only Jesus can give. No one has the power to do this through their own strength, design, or merit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit drawing us to the Father. That is the purpose of fasting together as a church.                          

Humans naturally love the merit system. Human rights, governments, capitalism, judicial systems, and even elementary schools are based on the merit system. The better I do, the better grades I get, the better job I get, the more money I make, and the better relationships I have. This system works… except in your life with Christ. You can’t earn God’s favor. He simply gives it to you because of His grace. Any spiritual system based on the merit system does not work. It leads to legalism, judgmental attitudes, burnout, failure, and unmet expectations.

On the other hand, when you grow in God’s grace, you learn to let go of your worries, stress, and self-righteousness. You begin to understand that everything in your life is based on His desire and love for you. His grace fuels your desire for Jesus, it frees you from sin and self-effort, and it changes everything in your life. Resting in His grace has tremendous significance in every area of your life.

This year I want you to experience that kind of relationship with God. I want you to grow in your understanding of grace. I want you to learn to experience and receive the love of Jesus. I want you to learn how to rest in Him. I want you to learn how to grow in your faith, let go of your worries, and experience His amazing peace that passes all human understanding. I hope you will join me in 2018 in pursuing Jesus.

 

Pastor Ritchie 

 

Avalon Church Taking Ground Fast – January 8-17, 2018

What is a Daniel Fast? A Daniel Fast is based on Daniel 10:2-3. It is when a person refrains from eating bread, sweets, meat, and alcohol to pursue answers to prayer and grow closer to God.

What can you expect? When you fast, you can expect God to answer prayer and to work in your life. You will draw closer to God. Don’t focus on what you can and cannot eat, but on praying. A side benefit is that you will feel better and become healthier.

Prayer List for the Taking Ground Fast

And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus. 1 Tim. 1:14

In 2018, we are praying to take new ground in faith in our personal lives and in our church. We are praying for every member to get a clearer picture of the greatness of Jesus, to learn how to rest in His grace, and to live in the abundance of His grace. We believe this will help you grow in your faith, get better in your relationships, live with greater peace, get better in your finances, and improve your spiritual and physical health. The results of God’s increase in your life will become evident in our church. We believe God will give us more people saved and baptized, more people completing their Next Steps, more offerings for ministry, and greater growth in our church.

As you participate in the Taking Ground Fast, pray for these things:

  • Pray that you get a bigger picture of Jesus and His love
  • Pray that you live in the peace that only God can give
  • Pray that you get a clearer understanding of grace
  • Pray that God will give you increase as you pursue Jesus
  • Pray for our pastor, our staff, and their families
  • Pray for church growth and church unity
  • Pray for healing for our members
  • Pray for our church to Take New Ground
  • Pray for the salvation of family and friends of our members

 

 

The Funniest Thoughts I Had in 2017

happy-new-year.jpg

 

 

As we close 2017, here are a few humorous thoughts that I had this year. Not all are original with me, but they are funny nonetheless.

 

1.     Teamwork is important. It gives you someone else to blame when you screw things up!

2.     The smarter our phones get the dumber we get.

3.     If the voices in my head are not real, then why are their ideas so awesome?

4.     I counseled a couple and the wife complained that her husband never took her to expensive places anymore. I suggested the grocery store.

5.     The older I get the clearer my conscience gets. I don’t know if I have dealt with my issues or if I can’t remember what I did.

6.     If the saying, “Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away” is true, then taking the stairs must be one of life’s greatest moments.

7.     I like to think that a hamburger in one hand and fries in the other is a balanced diet.

8.     Someone told me if I finish what I start, I’d feel better. I just finished an entire bag of chocolate chips and I feel awesome!

9.     The cautious, slow driver is considerate when he is behind me, but a jerk when he is in front of me.

10.  I would eat more vegetables if they tasted like bacon.

11.  My doctor told me there was a thin person inside me waiting to get out. That must be why I weigh so much.

12.  The reason I run early in the morning i my brain isn’t awake enough to tell me how stupid that is.

13.  When I was in college I often arrived late to class, but I made up for it by leaving early.

14.  A woman commented on Facebook, “This picture is of me when I was younger.” Aren’t all pictures?

Smile! God loves you!

 

Four Gifts Every Person Can Have This Christmas

gifts.jpg

 

The greatest gift ever given was the gift of Jesus. God gave Him so that we can have salvation and be put in right standing with God. Christmas is a time that we celebrate God’s gift to us. With that in mind, here are four gifts God offers to everyone this Christmas.

The Gift of Laughter

Solomon has been hailed as the wisest man who ever lived. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he gave us great wisdom when he wrote, “A merry heart does us good like a medicine.” Imagine that. Holy Scripture not only allows for merriment, joy, happiness, and laughter, but it encourages it.

Take time to laugh. We have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be happy about. Laughter will ease your stress and it will even make you feel better. Spend time with family, friends, coworkers, and your small group. Tell funny stories. Recollect those darn things that the kids said. Watch a funny movie. Tell a joke. Enjoy yourself. It will be an elixir for your soul. It is, after all, the best medicine.

The Gift of Friends

How great is the gift of friends? I thank God for salvation, forgiveness, family, and many other things. But having friends makes everything else better. I imagine trying to go through life without friends is kind of like trying to catch a wild skunk. You might be able to do it, but I doubt it would be worth it. God has designed us to need others. If you need a friend, here are a few suggestions to help you: be friendly, smile a lot, get involved in a ministry at church, ask God to bring the right friends into your life, don’t try too hard, and avoid friendships that damage you. Spend time with your friends at church worshipping God this Sunday. Friends are a special gift to you.

The Gift of Perspective

Perspective changes everything. It is easy to believe the lies that the devil tries to tell you about your life. He says that you are no good, but God says that you have the righteousness of God through Jesus. He tells you that there is no hope, but God sent Jesus to bring you hope and a future. No matter how bad your circumstances, there is hope and joy through Jesus. The devil tries to tell you things are bad, but reading God’s promises in the Bible changes your perspective. God is in control!

The Gift of Forgiveness

Through Jesus Christ, I have been given the gift of forgiveness. Because of His grace, I am redeemed, made new, released from my past, connected to His future, loved, empowered, able to forgive others, and blessed beyond my wildest imaginations. Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of forgiveness!

These four gifts are available to you this Christmas. They don’t cost you anything because Jesus already paid for them through His finished work on the cross. Get busy celebrating these gifts this Christmas and you will have the best Christmas ever!

 

 

A Perfect Time to Invite Others

A Christmas Story_Master.jpg

 

 

Last Sunday we began a new series entitled, “A Christmas Story.” This series is taken from the Gospel of Matthew chapters 1-2. We began with talking about the genealogies. Yes, the genealogies! It was awesome and if you missed it, then check it out here.                

This week I will talk about how Jesus answers life’s difficult questions. We all face difficult questions about family, relationships, money, timing, friendships, health, and many other things. This message will give you great hope as we learn to look to Jesus the way that Joseph did in Matthew chapter 1. I will end my message this week in a way that you will not want to miss. I think it will be a great encouragement to you, so don’t miss it.

This time of year is a perfect time to invite others to church. With our Christmas series, HOPE for Families, the Wonder of Christmas, and our Christmas Eve services, you have a perfect opportunity to bring friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to hear the Good News at Avalon Church. Ask God to open a door for you to talk to someone today about coming to Avalon Church this weekend!

 

 

 

Thank God for Coffee!

coffee bed.jpg

 

 

Have you ever stopped just to say thank you to God for the simple things in life? We often overlook the obvious blessings because we are so used to them. Have you ever thanked God for fingernails? What about beautiful smells? Have you ever stopped to think how much richer life is simply because you can smell beautiful things? Have you ever thanked Him for your bed? Do you know how many people in the world do not have one? Life is so rich and so blessed. Don’t forget to thank God for the little things.

So here is one I want to thank God for – coffee! Man, I love coffee. I love the routine of preparing the water and the freshly ground beans each morning for my French Press. I love the smell. I mean I really love the smell of coffee in the morning. I love how the first taste feels on my tongue. I love the rich, dark, amber liquid. It feels like I am sipping the nectar of the gods. Coffee in the morning is awesome! It is also good in the afternoon.

What about you? What little things are you thankful for? 

Miracle Offering This Sunday!

Miracle-Offering-2017.jpg

 

Ecclesiastes 11:4 If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. (NLT)

Too many times we put off until later what God leads us to do right now. Now is the time to act and take a step of faith! I think this is true for the Miracle Offering. Don’t wait! Step out in faith now!

God clearly promises to bless us when we are generous. The beauty of giving God’s way is that God truly wants this for you, not from you. God blesses me when I give. This is stated over and over in the Bible.  God blesses those who give to His work.  A good example of this is in the book of 1 Kings. Elijah was a prophet of God. There was a famine in the land. Elijah asked a woman who was basically down to her last meal to do something for him.  He said put God first and make a meal for me and watch what happens. 

1 Kings 17:8 "Elijah said, ‘Don't be afraid. Go ahead and cook that "last meal" but bake me a little loaf of bread first and afterwards there will still be enough food for you and your son.  For this is what the Lord says, "There will always be enough flour and oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rains and the crops will grow again.'  So she did as Elijah said and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat from her supply of flour and oil for many days.  For no matter how much they used there was always just enough left in the containers just as the Lord had promised through Elijah."         

So there really isn’t a bad time to learn this faith lesson. The best time to give could be when I'm flat broke and need God's help to get out of debt or to get out of financial trouble. God truly wants us to trust him in the middle of our own personal famine. When I put God first He'll take care of my needs. I cannot out give God.

Pray for our Miracle Offering on this Sunday, December 3rd. God has a miracle waiting for you if you will trust him!

How can you give?

Be creative in how you plan to give. You can give property, stocks, vehicles, equipment, jewelry, or anything valuable that can be turned into cash. You can even have a huge yard sale and raise cash to give. The key is to be creative and pray for God to empower you to give.  

You Can’t Get Ahead Without Being Honest

broken mirrot.jpg

 

 

Did you ever go to a carnival or a fair that had one of those funny mirrors that distorts reality? I love standing in front of the one that makes you look thin and tall. I like to imagine myself being seven feet tall, playing in the NBA, dunking the basketball, blocking shots, bumping chests with my teammates, and blowing kisses to thousands of adoring fans. Of course, that is about as likely to happen as waking up and finding a unicorn to ride to work, a DeLorean time machine to transport me back to 1985, or an Alabama fan that isn’t annoying.

I love what King David wrote in Psalm 51:6. But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.

Get honest with yourself. Don’t pretend, lie, or cover up. Don’t distort reality. Take a long, hard look in the mirror and get totally honest. That is difficult but necessary. It is a lot easier to make excuses, pass the buck, or blame someone else for our situation.

Honesty is important for marriage, work, friendships, success, and every relationship. You can’t have success without it. Consider three things that David shows us from this verse.

1.    God uses honesty to teach me.

One of the most important aspects of honesty is what it teaches me about life. While it may often be easier to lie in the moment, honesty always wins. Over time, honesty builds a foundation of trust and empowers me to grow. Being honest with yourself is necessary to grow personally. You can’t get better until you become honest with yourself.

2.    God uses honesty to give me wisdom and guidance.

Honesty produces wisdom and insight for living. Not until I am willing to look at myself in the mirror and honestly evaluate my life, my performance, my circumstances, or my sin, will I be able to improve. It is true for leadership, sports, job performance, or your health.

3.    God uses honesty to grow my inner life.

I love what he said about being honest in his innermost being. Until we get completely honest with ourselves, we will never grow in the most important part of our life – the inner life. It is one thing to have a good public persona, but it is another thing altogether to have a strong private life. We must learn to spend more energy on being that on doing. The doing part is what everyone else sees. It is public and is found in our job, our performance, and in our social presence. The only way to make the “doing” sustainable, blessed, and authentic is through “being.”

Being is about the inner life. It is spiritual. It is found in connecting with God through prayer, scripture, faith, and resting in Him. Being must always precede doing. Without being honest in this way, we set ourselves up for failure, burnout, stress, worry, hypocrisy, and thinness in our souls. According to God’s Word, it all begins with getting honest with yourself. This way God will begin a work in you that lasts. 

 

The Best is Yet to Come!

Walking on tracks.jpg

 

 

In our culture, it is easy to get a gloom and doom outlook. With mass shootings, political upheaval, tensions between every conceivable group, and the constant bombardment of bad news, one can feel hopeless. But as followers of Christ, we have good news. Jesus wins! The best is yet to come!

We have a bright future!

The Bible tells us that we are citizens of another world. We are simply pilgrims passing through. This world is not our final home. Our home is in heaven with Jesus and the Father. In every conceivable way, followers of Christ have a bright future. Jesus is with you. He provides, protects, blesses, delivers, and fills us with joy. We get all that and heaven too! Don’t let the lies of the enemy get to you. We have much to look forward to!

Jesus will set everything right one day.

Do not despair because of our world and the evil in it. Jesus will put all things right one day. I long for justice and a righteous system that is unsullied and pure. Everyone does, really. No human government will ever give us what we long for. But do not worry. Jesus will rule in perfect righteousness and justice when He comes again. There will be no need to worry about bribes, unfairness, misplaced justice, or evil because Jesus will reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus wins!

The gospel of Christ is still the hope of the world.

The hope of the world is not found in government, religion, or religiously imposed laws. It is not found in easy tasks, full bank accounts, or lots of likes on Facebook. It is not found in anything that is temporary. Real hope only comes through Jesus. Yet we often act as if money, education, or politics provide hope for the world. I want a perfect, beautiful, problem-free culture. One day we will get it when King Jesus rules in righteousness and sets all things back to order. But until then God has not called us to live in a sterile land filled with leprechauns and unicorns. He has called us to live three feet from the gates of hell and to attack with the only weapon capable of winning the war – the beautiful, radical, amazing love of the only One who can set us free.  So, let’s get busy sharing the gospel. I’ve read the end of the book and Jesus wins!

Take hope. The best is yet to come!

The Key to Prosperity is Rest

rest.jpg

 

Every person wants to succeed. No matter what your vocation is you want to prosper in it. I believe God has wired us this way. Parents want to succeed in raising their children. Athletes want to succeed in their sport. People want to succeed in their careers. Whatever we do, we want to prosper in it.

The key to prosperity is rest. Yes, hard work is good. God tells us to work for His glory. We are to plan, train, and do our best. But God gives us a secret to success in all we do. We are to rest in Him.

In Genesis chapter two we find a very interesting order of events. After God had worked for “six days” creating, then He rested. He did not rest because He was tired but He rested for our instruction. After He rested, He put mankind in the Garden to “work” and “keep” the Garden of Eden. In chapter one He created everything and gave mankind a blessing and a mandate. We find in chapter two that He rested and then put Adam and Eve to work. This is a very important order. We tend to think that we must work first and rest later. But God teaches us to rest in Him and then work. It is from this inflow of connecting with God that we are empowered to produce the outflow or overflow of resting in Him for our prosperity and work. Our success is rooted in resting in Him for everything.

In Genesis 2:15 God’s Word tells us that he put man and woman in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.” The Hebrew word for “work” is translated 227 times as “serve,” five times as “servant,” five times as “worshippers,” and five times as “work.” The main idea is that we are to serve and worship God through our work. We do this by resting in Him. Resting is an act of worship and faith. It means that we trust in His work, not ours. The best work is done through resting! “Keep” means to “watch” or to be a “watchman.” We are to rest in God and observe His greatness.

I believe the point is that we must learn to rest in God for everything. We rest in Him for grace, salvation, success, spiritual growth, meaning, purpose, and prosperity. It is from this position of faith that we please God. This position frees us from stress, worry, and turmoil. It breaks the sin of pride, self-righteousness, and self-reliance. It frees us to work as worship. It allows us to rest in Him for our provision and prosperity. It frees us from fear over our finances. It allows us to worship Him through bringing our tithes. It creates a spirit of thankfulness and generosity in us. It is the key to biblical prosperity. Biblical prosperity is not just about money. We all know of people who have lots of money who are miserable and troubled by worry, greed, family problems, and personal problems.

I believe that resting is an act of faith. Faith in every area of our lives begins with declaring our trust in God. It begins by admitting that we need God. It begins by throwing ourselves onto His mercy and grace. Before you work, give, plan, train, or strive, try resting in Him. It is the secret to your success.  

The Power of a Personal Invitation

invite_2.jpg

 

You wield great power. Although you may not feel very powerful, you are. In fact, you hold in your hands the future and eternity of the people in your circle of influence. How so, you ask? It is in the power of a personal invitation.

Research shows that most people say they would come to church if someone would simply invite them. Some research suggests that as many as 9 out of 10 people say they would go to church if they were invited. Whether you believe in the research or not, Jesus told us that we receive power to proclaim the gospel through the Holy Spirit. When you invite people, and bring them to church, they can come and receive Jesus. Think about the people in your life. How many of them would come and receive Jesus if you simply invited them? For people to be saved at church, they must first be at church.

I was youth pastor at a church in Florida for eight years. One of the pastors at that church was great at inviting people to church. He met a sailor who was far from God. He invited the man to attend church. The guy said he would think about it. The next Saturday he invited him again. He did so the next week and the next and the next. The sailor did not come to church, but the pastor kept inviting him every week for over ten years! Finally, he came to church and got saved. He eventually went to Bible college and became a pastor. That is the power of the personal invitation. Never give up! Inviting is evangelism! 

Living Out of the Overflow

overflow.jpg

 

 

Several years ago, Kim and I went with our family to an amusement park. While we waited for our turn to ride on a scary ride (it wasn’t scary but it had air-conditioning so who cares), we saw a frazzled mom with her two whiny, tired kids. Perhaps it was the heat, or the unbearable waiting, or the sugary treats that had long ago worn off, but they had reached the level of cantankerous grumbling that pushes sane moms over the edge. She grabbed them by the arms and with steam coming out of her ears she screeched, “I paid a lot of money for these tickets! You are going to have a good time whether you like it or not!” Sounds like some Christians.

The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 100 that we are to “serve the Lord with gladness.” It is easy to forget that serving the Lord and living the Christian life is supposed to be filled with joy. There are too many people that seem to think God told us to serve the Lord with madness, weirdness, or sadness. I don’t know about you, but I want more gladness and less sadness. Here are a few things to consider.

1. The Christian life is a happy life at its very essence.

You can’t justify wrong behavior just because you think, “God wants me to be happy.” Christians, however, have much to be happy about. As a pastor, I have observed many who think that sinful behavior leads to happiness, but is does not. The happiest people I know are Christians who have committed themselves completely to God. The gospel means “Good News.” Never forget that Jesus came to give us good news.

2. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control your attitude.

Joy is contagious. It is not based on your circumstances but on your relationship with Christ. One of the signs of being filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit is that you have joy. Joy prevails despite bad news when you know that Christ is with you. He has already won! You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be sad, grumpy, unthankful, angry, or bitter. Your choice.

3. Delight leads to gladness.

I love what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 37. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Contentment. Satisfaction. Fulfillment. These all come from delighting in the Lord and serving him with gladness.

4. Smile and watch what happens.

Cheerfulness is a good thing despite how some Christians act. It is OK to smile and be nice. You do not need to be a rock thrower. You don’t have to be mean and angry. Serve the Lord with cheerfulness! It may shock some people, but God came up with the idea of pleasure. It is OK to enjoy life. Think of all the pleasures God created for us to enjoy so that we would worship him more. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting are not meant just for survival but for our pleasure. Enjoy the wonder of beauty and serve the Lord with gladness!

 

 

What is Heaven Like?

ben-white-148794.jpg

 

We are talking about heaven for the next several weeks at Avalon Church. If you miss any of the messages or want to hear them again, make sure to listen to the podcast at www.avalonchurch.net or on iTunes. This also presents a great opportunity to invite people to church! Invite someone to listen to these messages. Each message will be posted on Wednesday after I preach it on Sunday.

 

This past Sunday I talked about what heaven is like. Heaven is a real place but it is not just a place. It is a fulfillment of God’s promise that Jesus will restore the cosmos to its original purpose to bring glory to God. God created everything for his glory. Sin interrupted that natural order. Because of Jesus, heaven ends up on earth as a new heaven and earth, where he reigns, and gives life abundantly. The Bible is one coherent story about God’s creation of a beautiful garden and it ends with God’s beautiful garden-city coming down to earth. The bloody and violent war in between is won by our warrior-king-priest, Jesus Christ!

Jesus will return! He will rule over the earth. After he gives everything back to the Father and completes what Adam could not do, we will enter the eternal state of the New Heaven and the New Earth and will be with the Father, Son, and Spirit for eternity.

God is going to renew the earth and refresh it. It will be different than we currently know it. God will purify the earth and remove any signs of decay, disease, sin, and the curse. There will be no sorrow, pain, or death. There will be no more sea – ¾ of our planet is currently covered in salt water. Salt prevents decay. There will be no more decay. Here are just a few reminders of what heaven will be like:

·      It is a place where God is with us.

·      It is a place of unimaginable joy and happiness. Paul said eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, and no one can imagine it. There will be no pain, sorrow, sin, curse, or tears.

·      It is a beautiful and perfect place. Walls of clear jasper, streets of pure, clear gold, a city of pure gold. The craftsmanship is beyond anything we can imagine. Imagine gigantic gates made of a single pearl.

·      The New Jerusalem. It is only a part of heaven. There will be the renewed heaven and earth. The heavenly city described in Revelation is 1500 miles cubed. That is large enough for 250,000 times the world population to have a 50,000-square foot house each in the city! Needless to say, it will be awesome!

·      It is a place of perfect relationships. It is being prepared like a bride for a wedding. We are the bride of Christ. We will have perfect relationships and perfect love in heaven. I will talk about seeing our loved ones in the next few weeks.

·      It is a place of perfect worship. God and Jesus are our Temple. A temple is a place of worship and a place to meet God!

·      It is a place of eternal light. It is lit by God’s glory. There is no night there.

·      It will have The River of Life and The Tree of Life. The river is refreshing and the food is perfect. The river flows from God and represents the Holy Spirit and the refreshing eternal life that flows from God. What life it is! It also represents perfect, eternal fellowship.

·      Heaven is eternal. It is outside of space and time. Christ will literally return to earth and set everything back to its original order and purpose. The whole earth and universe will be renewed and we can’t even imagine how great it is.

Over the next few weeks, I will talk about what we will do in heaven, what our bodies will be like, and why children will be in heaven and what they will be like. Heaven is a place where we will work without the curse. We will use our gifts. I believe the greatest art, literature, music, architecture, food, creativity, organization, and discoveries will be made. God is a creative God, and we will be with Him for all eternity, worshipping, praising, serving, ruling, feasting, and receiving His grace and love.

Jesus Understands Your Pain

benedicto-de-jesus-118405.jpg

 

 

Did you know that the shortest verse in the Bible contains only two words? It is found in The Gospel of John 11:35. “Jesus wept.” Concise. Touching. Insightful. Comforting. Deep. I use the word “deep” because it is theologically rich. It gives us insight into the heart of God, the comfort of a Savior, and the empathy of our Lord. It tells us that he understands, he has been where we are, and he knows exactly how to comfort us.  

If you are not familiar with the story, allow me to give you the nutshell version. Jesus was very close to Lazarus, his sisters Mary and Martha, and the rest of their family. Most likely, they funded much of Jesus’ public ministry through financial contributions and providing food and shelter for Jesus when he needed them. Word was sent to Jesus that Lazarus was near death. Jesus continued ministering, purposely delaying so that God would get the glory. That is just like Jesus, isn’t it? Delaying for our good and God’s glory. Operating in a way that we sometimes question, but when we trust him, it always turns out for our good.

Four days later Jesus finally shows up. Lazarus is dead and buried. Everyone thought that Jesus was insensitive and uncaring. After all, you always respond quickly to your biggest donor. Then Jesus does the unthinkable. He tells them to remove the stone covering the grave where Lazarus was buried. He was told, with a mildly sarcastic and rebuking tone, that was not a good idea. If he had not delayed in Lazarus’ time of need he could have seen his friend. He might even have saved him. But Jesus tells them to do it anyway.

Then he wept. Weeping is not a single tear or a mild, suppressed cry. It is open, raw emotion. It is a rending of the soul. It is open, flowing tears of grief and remorse.

Then he raised Lazarus from the dead. A man wrapped like a mummy, lying in a cold grave, dead as a doorknob, came back to life. It was a miracle. But if Jesus knew – and he did – that he would raise Lazarus back to life, then why did he weep? Why was he not smug? Why did he not just smile, like he knew something everyone else did not? I think this is where we learn so much from two simple words. Jesus wept.

Jesus wept because he was human. He had real human emotions. He felt pain, sorrow, and grief. He knew what it was like to feel alone, abandoned, and abused. He experienced loss and the deep emotions associated with it. He knows how it feels to lose a friend. He knows how empty it feels when someone close to you dies. His humanity empowers him to relate to us, comfort us, and be with us.

He wept because he was human. He gave life to the dead because he is God! As God, he knew that Lazarus would not stay dead. He would be resurrected! Jesus knows how to comfort us because he has experienced the pain, but he also knows that one day we will be resurrected. Believers will be reunited in heaven. Death is temporary at best! It will be over soon because Jesus defeated sin on the cross. Because he conquered sin he also crushed the wage of sin – death. He overcomes! He brings dead things to life!

There is no pain that you can have that Jesus has not experienced. That is why he understands and can bring comfort to you. He knows. He feels. He experiences what you experience. No matter what pain, sorrow, or loss you experience, he can comfort you because he has felt it too. Because he became human, he understands. Because he is God, he will take you through it.

Hebrews 4:15-16 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (NLT)

 

Is Your Christianity a Burden or a Blessing?

burden.jpg

 

Few Christians would ever say that Christianity is a burden, but many live that way. Consider how many non-believers think that Christianity is nothing more than keeping a list of rules by a group of people who are judgmental and unhappy. Maybe the reason they think that is there are so many Christians who are guilt-ridden, and live under the power of shame. The Bible is very clear that we can’t earn our salvation, Jesus paid for it and offers it as a gift. But many Christians live as if the way to spiritual maturity is through their good works, as if their “goodness” earns them a gold star with God. The Bible teaches that this kind of living is “a ministry of death.” You get into a spiral of failure because you try to do your best, but you fail often. As a result, you do not experience the joy and freedom that Christ offers through his grace. Christianity then becomes guilt-driven and shame-driven.

Guilt and shame have a purpose – to bring us to God. Before you are saved, you are guilty. Your sin covers you with shame. But when you receive Christ, He removes the shame and guilt and covers them through his finished work on the cross. God promises that he “will remember your sins no more!” You are no longer guilty because you have been justified and declared not guilty. This is central to the gospel. It is fair? No, but Jesus paid the price for us! It is beautiful!

Living in shame affects your attitude, your outlook, and your behavior. It stifles your creativity and impedes your progress in the Christian life. Shame can be so subtle. Yet it has great power in our lives if we do not embrace our freedom in Christ. I remember when Kim and I started Avalon Church, we had to overcome feelings of shame because of how we were trained in church. The churches we went to all had Sunday night and Wednesday night services. We could not have those for several reasons, including that we had no place to meet. We felt guilty because we had never done church that way before. If something so simple, benign, and innocent as that can make you feel guilt, then what about the sins and failures of your past? Many people in bondage to guilt over simple things that are not even sinful.  

Does this mean that we are free to sin? No, it does not. Paul wrote, “How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?” God’s grace frees you from shame AND the power of sin.” Paul also wrote, “Sin no longer has any power over me!”

I love this passage in Romans because it teaches us how to overcome the power of shame and receive the blessings that God has for us through Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:15-18 But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph (reign in life) over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. (NLT)

It can be difficult to receive this because of the power that shame has over us. But when you begin to believe and receive these promises given to us through Christ, then Christian living is no longer a burden. We begin to reign in life and in triumph. Christin living becomes a person, not a process or a list of rules. You experience freedom. Christianity then becomes the greatest blessing imaginable!

Pray this prayer: Dear Jesus, I believe that your sacrifice on the cross was for me. I receive your grace today. I ask you to help me believe it every day. Help me to see that you are sufficient for me. Because of You, I am the righteousness of God and I trust in your grace.  

How to Renew Your Strength and Finish Your Race

Finish the Race.jpg

 

 

Runners have a saying for finding the energy they need to finish a race. They call it finding their “second wind.” There is supposedly a second wind or “runner’s high” that gives you a new burst of energy to finish your race. We all need more of that. Whether as a parent that has settled into the new school year that slogs by at the speed of a glacier, as an employee that hangs on by your fingernails between vacation days, or as a Christian whose Bible reading habits have gone the way of the dodo bird, you need something to renew your strength. The good news is that God has given us a promise that will do just that.

Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (NKJV)

Patient Faith

The word “wait” in the original language paints a word picture of the tension caused by twisting or stretching a rope. To wait on the Lord requires a patient faith. There is sometimes tension and stretching involved because God wants to renew you and make you stronger. Perhaps you feel the tension of a delayed answer to prayer. Maybe you feel like God isn’t answering your prayer at all. Maybe things have not turned out like you thought they would. You must exercise patient faith. Continue to trust God. Continue to believe His promises. When you feel the tension, and stretching of the moment, wait on the Lord.

Resting Faith

Waiting requires you to rest, to be patient, to turn it over to God, to allow Him to do His work, and to wait passively. This is ultimately what faith requires. I must rest and wait on Him. I must trust that God sees more, knows more, and is more powerful than I am. God can do more in a moment than I can do in a lifetime.

Active Faith

Faith does not mean that I play no part in God’s plan. The act of renewing my strength means that I play an active role. “They shall renew their strength.” I must actively pursue waiting on the Lord. I must participate in His plan by fully trusting Him. I must take part in the renewal process.

Mounting up with wings like eagles gives us a mental image of soaring. We can soar above the problems, the things that drain us, the things that cause us stress. God can make us fly above these things. Some believe that molting is what the writer had in mind. Molting is a process in which the bird sheds its old, weak, and damaged feathers, and grows new feathers that are strong and agile. This is a beautiful picture of what God does when we trust him. He can take the tired, old, scarred, beat-up things in our lives and make them new. He gives power and strength. He rejuvenates. He brings new life to things that were dead. He gives endurance. He will give you your second wind.

We all need a second wind from time to time. We need new energy and new focus. Patiently waiting on the Lord will give you the strength you need to finish your race.

 

 

How to Stay in Love for a Lifetime

ben-white-148794.jpg

 

 

Last Sunday marked the seventh and final message at Avalon Church for the message series, A Better Marriage. You can listen to all seven messages at www.avalonchurch.net. I encourage you to share these messages with a friend. As a way to reach friends, family, or co-workers, you can buy the book, “Marriage in the Nude: A Man’s Guide to Love and Grace,” and give it as a gift. It is quite possible that God will use you in this way to save a marriage and point people to Jesus. The following is an excerpt from the book.

 

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:25, ESV

A fascinating thing about the first marriage in the Garden of Eden is how completely open and honest they were with each other. Of course, this was before they ate the forbidden fruit. But think how remarkable that statement is: "The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." That statement contains some beautiful truths and opens a few principles to help us foster a lifelong love.

… the man and his wife

There was a sense of equality between husband and wife. They both were acutely aware of their value to God and each other. They formed a strong team. A team commits to each other, watches out for each other, and sacrifices for the greater good. God designed marriage to be a place of self-sacrifice rather than a place of self-service. Teamwork makes the team work. Teammates do not envy the role of others. They recognize their contribution as valuable and make the team stronger by accepting divinely prescribed roles.

…were both naked

Marriage in the nude gave birth to humanity. Nakedness reveals more than a physical reality. They were completely open with each other. Openness leads to oneness. Absolute acceptance marked their union. Unconditional love underpinned their relationship. Until you build a sense of consummate openness and vulnerability with your spouse, you will not experience that kind of God-ordained unity. They did not cover up with each other. There was no shame or embarrassment, but a genuine sense of freedom with each other. Can you imagine that? No jealousy. No striving to get the upper hand. No manipulation. No hurting each other. Openness about struggles and successes, trials and triumphs.

Although it is possible to be uninhibited with each other, the only way you will truly be open is when you rest in the grace of Jesus. Once you understand His grace, then you will give grace more freely. Let's face it, when you are keenly aware that you have done nothing to earn, deserve, or merit His grace, then you can release forgiveness, live with understanding, and love with no strings attached. It mirrors God's love for us. What would happen if we truly began to live by God's grace in our marriage? There would be much less worry and stress. We would be able to communicate more clearly and share our burdens more fully. It would totally revolutionize your marriage.

…and were not ashamed

Shame has vast power. Some suggest that it significantly influences how we act, whom we accept, and how we see ourselves. That is why it is so important to remember that when Christ saves a person, he completely removes the shame of our sins and our past. We must rest in the perfect work of Jesus if we want a Christ-centered marriage. His grace transforms.                                                  

Because you are an image-bearer, you can live by grace. You can give and receive grace in your marriage. You can rest in the knowledge that God knew what He was doing when He made you. He makes no mistakes. Resting in Him helps you accept each other. Oddly enough, we often create an illusion of the idealistic partner, rather than embracing the real person. You can’t have a perfect spouse, but you can love the one God is sanctifying He continues with his makeover. Women often marry thinking their husband will change. Men often marry thinking their wife will never change. The more we rest in Jesus and his grace, then the more we depend on his finished work to empower our marriage! Resting in him helps you not be ashamed.

Once again, that is not to say that we can expect our spouse to be sinless.  No person is without flaws and blemishes, but we can grow and become more like Christ. Although there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, you can have one that is perfect for you!

Don't fall prey to the "soul mate" myth that pervades our culture. Many fear that the person they marry may not be their soul mate, whatever that means. That belief leads to thinking that marriage is a transaction designed for self-fulfillment rather than a biblical relationship requiring love, commitment, sacrifice, and service. A flawed theory like that leads to disappointment because your spouse becomes your idol. You expect your husband or wife to be the answer to all your problems. He or she will fix all that is wrong with your life. You see him or her as the source of your contentment, fulfillment, meaning, security, and hope. Only God can give you those things.

Start Praying Now for Our Annual Miracle Offering

miracle offering.jpg

 

 

Our annual Miracle Offering will be held on December 3rd. Every year we hear stories of the miracles God does in so many people’s lives. I want to encourage you to get the date on your calendar so you can start praying about what God wants you to give this year. You can get in on the blessing! Your giving makes such a difference for our church and we can’t do it without you.

God clearly promises to bless us when we are generous. He blesses our work, our relationships, our health, our finances, and every part of our life. Deuteronomy 15:10 “Give freely and spontaneously. Don't have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God’s blessing in EVERYTHING you do, in ALL your work and your ventures.” (MES)  

What is the Miracle Offering?

If you are new to Avalon you may not have heard about the Miracle Offering. It is a special offering that is over and above your regular giving. We ask everyone to bring his or her best offering of the year. Giving a special gift expresses our love and thankfulness, stretches our faith, and positions us to be blessed. I hope that you will pray and ask God to bless you in an area where you need it most. It may be a lost loved one you are praying for, or a new job, or a health issue, or a broken relationship, or your marriage. Whatever miracle you need make sure to sow this seed in faith and ask God to bless it. People have told stories in the past of how God saved a family member, provided a promotion, gave them children, blessed them financially, or answered an urgent prayer.

The Miracle Offering positions our church to grow and unleashes ministry. Over the next few months I will cast the vision for our future and talk about a plan for this year’s offering. I am very excited about where God is taking us!

I am asking every person at Avalon Church to give in the Miracle Offering as an expression of love to God this year. We are better together. When everyone does his or her part, we accomplish BIG THINGS for God. I can’t wait to see what God does through us this year!

 

 

 

 

What Does the Bible Say about Disciplining Your Children?

Discipline.jpg

 

This week in our series A Better Marriage we talked about Grace-Centered Parenting. You can check out all the messages in this series on www.avalonchurch.net. This coming Sunday, September 10th, we will talk about Finding a Grace-Centered Sex Life. I encourage you to attend and invite a friend. 

                             

The Bible has a lot to say about how we teach, train, and discipline our children. This primarily involves teaching or instructing and applying discipline. Of course, discipline corrects a child, instructs him or her in the way to live, and provides the positive outcome of wisdom. The purpose of all discipline is to teach.

A parent receives his or her moral authority from God. The best way to teach your children how to live is to begin with a relationship with God. There is also a great emphasis on teaching and instructing. You can discipline without instructing properly. We have all seen this happen. We teach our children with our own lives, by our own example, and by pointing them to a relationship with Christ. While you can’t force your children to have a relationship with Jesus, you can create a positive environment that makes a relationship with Him a normal part of life. Being faithful and completely involved in the life of the church is a critical component of teaching and instructing. It is impossible to impart to them something you don’t have yourself.

Consider the following verses about instruction and discipline:

Proverbs 1:8 My child, listen when your father corrects you. Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction. (NLT)

Proverbs 29:17 Discipline your children and they will give you happiness and peace of mind. (NLT)

Proverbs 22:15 A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away. (NLT)

Proverbs 13:24 If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don't love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them. (NLT)

Proverbs 19:18 Discipline your children while they are young enough to learn. If you don’t, you are helping them to destroy themselves. (GN)

Proverbs 23:13-14 Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death. (NLT)

Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. (NLT)

Here are a few biblical tips on discipline that will help you know what to do:

  • There is a wrong way and a right way to discipline.
  • Discipline and instruction are biblically-mandated.
  • The purpose is to produce responsibility.
  • Spiritual involvement bolsters discipline.
  • Don’t ever compare your children to each other.
  • Prioritize the most important things and then build margin into your life and schedule.
  • Say yes whenever possible. Be positive. Affirm often.
  • Don’t be manipulated by the attitudes of your kids.
  • Draw clear lines and be consistent.
  • Praise character, good deeds, hard work, responsibility, and accomplishments rather than beauty, talent, ego or pride.
  • Partner with the church.
  • Start early. What you think is cute when they are toddlers can turn ugly as they get older.
  • Foster respect and responsibility.
  • Be flexible, but not in parenting absolutes.
  • When it is over, drop it.
  • Speak blessings over them.
  • Laugh as much as possible.

There are challenges involved with raising a child. Do not despair or lose hope about the culture in which we live. God has promised to be with you and help you. He has given an instruction manual that will guide you to the end of your journey and will empower you to raise champions for His glory.

How to Have More Money and Enjoy Life More

vitaly-145502.jpg

God has a financial plan that will make you successful. The Bible teaches God-breathed principles that transcend all cultures and eras. His economic blueprint does not depend on how much money you make. Nevertheless, the burden is on you to make the decision to live by His principles or by your feelings. God's laws work no matter how high or low your income level is. His truths are transcendent.

Every person possesses unique abilities and passions. God, in His wisdom, has given us distinctive personalities, different levels of giftedness, and personal yearnings. God's plans work for every personality and gift type. Whether you are a business owner and desire to make enough money to travel the world, or you work for someone else, want to live a simple life, and plan to retire early, His principles work the same. Here are a few things He teaches us about our relationship with money.

 

Begin with the Tithe

 

God says that He MUST be first. He is the priority in our finances. How do I put Him first? God says the first step is tithing. The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives. (Deuteronomy 14:23) This makes sense because tithing is an exercise in faith.

The Bible teaches us that the tithe is the first ten percent of our income. Notice it is the first part, not the leftovers. God has always demanded to be first in every part of our life. Once I prioritize God in my finances, it is easier to begin to prioritize other aspects of my spending.

 

Cultivate Contentment

 

Be thankful. It sounds simple, but it works. Be thankful for what you have. Learn to be content, and it will quell lots of unnecessary spending and unwanted debt. How many times do we buy something that just hangs in the closet or gathers dust in our basement? Thankfulness and contentment simplify your life and bring a margin to your finances. If you don’t get this principle, then all the financial planning in the world will not be enough, because no matter how much you make or how much you have, it will never be enough. The Apostle Paul said, “For I have learned to be satisfied with what I have.” (Philippians 4:11)

 

Manage Your Spending

 

Once you put faith in your finances and manage your contentment, then you can effectively manage your money. Save and invest in yourself. Wise people do not live at or above their means, but they keep some margin in their lives. King Solomon wrote, “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.” Follow a budget. Once you have done that, then you can fully enjoy life for a long period of time.

God does want you to enjoy life. Some feel guilty about this and don’t enjoy God’s blessings. Others miss out on real joy because they seek it in the wrong things. God desires to bless you! Following His plan opens the possibility of fully enjoying our time here. Jesus said He came to give us life to the fullest.

King Solomon was a wise man. The Bible says that he was the wisest man who ever lived. When he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he wrote from the perspective of one that did not live for God's purposes. That is why the book has such a depressing theme about the meaninglessness of life. However, even in his depressed state, he observed that God's ways are always the best ways. Consider his thoughts on money and work. “And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—that is indeed a gift from God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19

Life is indeed a gift from God. Enjoy it!