Honesty: The First Step to Financial Success

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In Psalm 51 King David wrote about his moral and leadership failure. He wrote about repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. One of my favorite verses from this passage is found in verse fifty-one. “But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.” (NLT)

Getting brutally honest with yourself is the first step to recovery and restoration of any kind. Until David got honest, he could not get better. The same is true with you and your finances. Take a long, hard look in the mirror and get brutally honest. That is really hard to do. It is a lot easier to make excuses and blame someone or something else. But until you get totally honest about your debt, your spending habits, and your income, you will never prosper. This principle applies to people from every economic level. It really does not matter how much money you make if you don’t manage it well. Spending more than you make is a path that only has one end – disaster.

Did you ever go to a carnival or a fair that had one of those funny mirrors that distorts how you look? I love standing in front of the one that makes you look thin and tall. I like to imagine myself being seven feet tall and playing in the NBA, dunking the basketball, blocking shots, bumping chests with my teammates, and blowing kisses to thousands of adoring fans. While fun to imagine, it is completely unrealistic. I would never blow kisses. 

Isn’t that the way we like to look at ourselves? With distorted reality. It is hard to look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word, but that is exactly what is necessary. We have to know our own heart before we can change. We must take an honest look at our financial picture before we can improve it. 

You must decide about how you manage your money. Do you want margin, less stress, and less worry? Do you want to plan for retirement? Do you want the financial peace that comes from managing your debt well and having enough money to pay your bills? Do you want to live with God’s blessings or if you want to live with stress and pressure all your life? Do you want to be able to give as God leads you? You must decide whether or not you are going to try to impress people you don’t like by buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have. Good luck with that. The better way is to get honest, get a plan, and determine to find contentment with what you have until you can afford more. Decide to get out of debt. You can do it. You can have peace. You can have true prosperity. But you can’t have it if you live like most Americans – spend more than you make, live on credit cards, rack up bad debt, make minimum payments, live a lie, and have absolutely no clue where your money goes. 

Before I can live a blessed life financially, I have to get to know my own heart and be honest with myself about what I want in life and where those desires come from. Until you take time to think through your income, debt, and spending habits, you will not be able to establish a strong plan. 

Do what David did. Pray. Ask God to help you. Become brutally honest with yourself. That is the first step to obtaining wisdom that permeates your innermost desires, thoughts, and plans. It is the first step to change. It is the first step to success. 

 

Respect in the Age of Trump

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If you watch much news or if you are on social media, then you are aware of the venom, vitriol, and disrespect that permeates our daily discourse. It hardly seems possible to have a civil conversation with someone who has an opinion that differs from yours. Rather than discuss ideas and defend our philosophical positions with intellectual acuity and dignity, we allow our conversations to devolve into silly epithets and grade-school-name-calling. It actually makes my head hurt. I have nearly sworn off social media interaction and watching the news. To prove my point, just because I included President Trump’s name in the title of this article, many readers reacted either positively or negatively, with disgust or ecstatic interest. 

We need to learn how to be respectful, even with those with whom we disagree. I truly believe respect helps a person be successful in life. Particularly in an age where there is such division and strife over politics that people can’t seem to disagree without being disagreeable. Respect is more important than ever now. Jesus Christ modeled and taught us how to respect and be respected. It is one of those non-negotiable attributes that Christians must demonstrate. How do you develop that kind of respect? 

1. Worship God. 

The Bible refers to this as reverent fear for God. One must respect and revere God and keep Him at the center of one’s life. You will not always understand everything about God. He is far too vast for our finite minds to comprehend. You can know Him though. He loves you. Always approach Him with reverent fear. We call this worship.

2. Demonstrate respect even if you disagree. 

You will not always agree with the authority in your life. Sometimes those in authority are wrong. It is important, however, to respect those with whom you disagree. There is far too much venom in our culture today. Be a part of the solution not a part of the problem.

3. Respect yourself.

Don’t go through life with a small view of yourself or the life God has given you. You are unique and have a unique purpose in life. Believe in the grand plan that God has for you. You are a leader. Leaders accomplish their mission with resolve. Do not operate in ego or pride. Admit it when you fail. Be transparent with your success and your mistakes. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Work on your strengths most. Surround yourself with people who are better and smarter than you and don’t be afraid to give away praise and authority along with responsibility.

4. Respect others without fearing them. 

Fear God and only God. Respect all men. Cower before none. Stand in awe of God and his creation. Admire others and congratulate them for the good things in their life but do not stand in awe of them. They are only human, and the fear of man leads to failure. You are equally as valuable as they. Your attitude will separate you from the crowd; your work ethic, boldness, and respect will make a difference. Lead when others tremble. Do not be afraid to take risks. 

5. Respect begins at home. 

Men, respect your wife, cherish her, and love her. Seek to understand her. Remember, the things that you don’t understand are what make her mysterious and special. You can understand other men but will probably scratch your head when it comes to understanding women. On the other hand, you will get to make love to your wife and become one with her. That is worth not understanding a few things! Be kind to her. Do not belittle or berate her. God has charged the man with the responsibility of sanctifying his wife, so respect her. 

Women, respect your husband and love him. It is one of the great commands that God gives to wives. Although scripture certainly implies that women are to love their husbands, the far more explicit command for wives is that they are to respect their husbands. God knows that men feel loved through respect. In a culture that sees marriage as a place of self-fulfillment, God shows us that true fulfillment in marriage comes through self-sacrifice. The foundation of this kind of selfless expression is respect. 

What do you think you need to do to show more respect and reflect the love of Jesus in our current political climate? What needs to change in your daily conversations or in your social media interactions? Respect is a big deal and we need a lot more of it. You may not be able to change the entire national environment, but you can begin changing your environment today. 

 

The Busy Parents Guide for Schedule Management 

 

Now that school has started again, the insanity of our schedules ramps up to epic proportions. School schedules. Homework. Sports. Activities. Your second job as a chauffeur. Church. Running a household. Oh, and that little thing called your job. The relief of getting your kids back to school and out of the house is quickly replaced with unavoidable demands. 

We are all busy. Some more than others, but for most people life seems like a blur. James, the half-brother of Jesus, addressed this issue nearly 2000 years ago when he asked the probing question, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Even before cell phones, the Internet, and modern transportation people struggled with margin and schedules. Life is brief. Life is busy. Life is a blur. God wants us to make the most of our fleeting time. 

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

During the busy school year here are a few things that will alleviate the stress and help you manage your life and your children’s schedules in a way that creates margin and allows you to enjoy the time you have with your children and accomplish the most important things:

Get Centered

You are too busy not to spend time with God every day. I think this has to be the first and most important commitment. Attend church every week. Read the Bible and pray each day even if it is just for a short time. This will keep you centered and keep you from running off the rails. That seems counterintuitive to the person with a crammed schedule, but it is necessary for the busy employee, the busy parent, and the busy entrepreneur. Spending time with God, whether in the morning, at lunchtime, or in the evening, is critical to your joy and success. It helps you live by grace rather than guilt.

Get Simple

One of the great challenges for busy people is how to find time to fit it all in. Being organized helps, but the key to finding margin is not finding a way to fit in more stuff but learning how to eliminate stuff. This is where learning to say no is critical. You must determine what is most important in your life and schedule that first. Many busy people want to spend time with God, go to church, serve, participate in a small group, and spend quality time with their family. They just haven’t learned to say no to things that keep them from doing it. Your peace and joy come from what you say “no” to as much as what you say “yes” to. Committing to simplify your schedule creates the opportunity to live by a purpose. It is OK to say no. In fact, it is necessary to live the kind of life that matters. Let’s be honest, your children need margin just as much as you do. Let them have time to be a kid. Not every activity is necessary or helpful. Too much business can be harmful to their development.

Get Focused

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

Get Scheduled

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

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed. Jesus said that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Living by God’s grace empowers even the busiest person to create margin and live joyfully. Obviously, some things are essential. Your children must go to school, study, and live life. Make sure that you put the most important things in your schedule. Everything else can wait. 

 

Have You Heard What’s Happening at Avalon Church? Summer Update

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I want to thank everyone for being faithful this summer. We have had a good summer. Here are a few highlights:

  • People got saved, baptized, and joined the church through the Next Step Class. 
  • We have had some fun in our Avalon Church Goes 90’s summer theme. 
  • Because of your faithfulness to give we have sponsored a children’s home in South Africa. 
  • We have been able to help Neil and Bonnie Gardner meet their financial commitments to go to Indonesia for ten months to help missionary families by teaching their children. This empowers the missionaries to reach unreached people with the gospel and keep their children safe. Pray for them as they leave on August 7th. 
  • We have set up our monthly outreach/evangelistic mailings. The first one goes out this week. 
  • The Student Ministry had a great Beach Retreat. Several students got saved and we will baptize them on August 12th.
  • We have planned a fantastic outreach for August 11th called Kids Blitz. 

Thank God for all He has done through us this summer! You can see how our value statements are being lived out at Avalon: we are better together; your next step is your most important step; inviting is evangelism; generous people are happy people; participation is membership; and we embrace the mess.

Now it is time to get back into our regular service schedule – 9:30 and 11:15. I want to encourage you to show up and serve, be on time, have a good attitude, invite others to church, and be excited to share the love of Jesus this Sunday. 

On August 5th I will begin a new series entitled Grow Strong: Strengthen Your Faith by Reading the Bible. This series will come from Psalm 119. I believe it will be incredibly helpful and encouraging to you. I encourage you to go to a small group. I have written a companion book for this series that will help you read the Bible with understanding, grow your trust in God’s Word, and grow stronger in your faith. 

I love you and can’t wait to see you on Sunday. 

Pastor Ritchie

Enjoy a Bowl of Ice Cream Today!

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As we near the time of year that school starts again (that roar you hear is parents of school-aged children celebrating), we need to look for ways to celebrate. Today, July 23rd, is National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. So, go ahead. Grab a bowl or a cone of delicious, creamy delight. Rub it on your lips if you like. No judging here. And if vanilla is too plain for you, then dress it up with chocolate, whipped cream, nuts, bananas, and sprinkles. Just don’t add a cherry on top because you are on a diet! 

5 Tips to Help You Finish a Difficult Project

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Difficult projects are, well, difficult. No surprise there. But how we manage a difficult project often determines how successfully we complete it. Research papers, big reports, marathons, DIY projects, writing a book, or starting a business all have the same common denominator – they are difficult. They require determination, planning, sweat equity, and did I mention determination? If you have a big, difficult project, here are 5 tips that will help you complete it on time.

1.     “See” your goal regularly. Written goals get accomplished, but only if they are seen regularly. You must have a way to remind yourself of your goal. For some, this means displaying it in your workspace, so you read it every day. For others, this means reading your goals every morning before you start your day because you need to hear your goals read aloud. The point is you need to remind yourself daily of your goals because interruptions happen every day.

2.     Build a team around you. You do not have to have employees working for you to build a team. It could be as simple as sharing your vision with your spouse, so he or she can encourage you. A team includes people who can encourage, direct, and advise you as you march toward your goal. 

3.     Eliminate the negative. You will have lots of people who will tell you that you can’t do whatever it is that you want to do. They will tell you it is unreasonable, too expensive, or too hard. Do not listen to them. Find your encouragement. It could come from a book, a podcast, a blog, a picture, a story, the Bible, or a person.

4.     Celebrate break through moments. Celebrating small milestones will encourage you and help you feel like you are making progress toward your goal. Learn to enjoy the small wins so you will achieve the big win. For example, if your goal is to run a marathon, then celebrate with friends and family when you run your first 15-mile training run. It helps condition your mind to remember that you can finish the race when you face 26.2 miles on the big race day.

5.     Remove distractions. No matter what your difficult project is you, will face distractions. Distractions rob you of your time and will derail your progress. Assess your environment. Eliminate the unnecessary distractions. No one can remove all distractions, but you can remove the ones that have the most potential to distract you and keep you from your goal. For example, if you want to write you must turn off your email, Twitter, and Facebook so you won’t be tempted to turn your attention off your project.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What have you found helps you finish difficult projects on time and on budget?

How to Increase Your Productivity

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You have probably felt like the proverbial hamster on a wheel. Your schedule grows fatter and your quality time for important things seems skinnier than a runway model. Social media makes it even worse because we all read posts and see pictures (probably Photo Shopped) of our “friends” doing stuff that we would love to do…if we only had the time. King Solomon understood how important it is to manage your time even before there was an Internet. He wrote, “If your ax is dull and you don’t sharpen it, you have to work harder to use it. It is smarter to plan ahead.” (Ecclesiastes 10:10 NLT) 

Here are three practical steps that Solomon taught to help us become more productive:

1.     Planning.

This is the most critical aspect of time management and productivity. You must plan ahead. You will accomplish what you plan, not what you don’t plan. Planning is more than just writing a list. A list can sometimes be good and sometimes it can be a cruel master. Planning involves…

·      Simplifying. Maybe the reason you are stressed is you are simply doing too much! Learn to say no. Parents of young children often feel guilty and overschedule their children’s activities. Less is often more. Be OK with simplifying your schedule. Determine what is most important and do those things first. That is a big component of time management. 

·      Praying your goals. I believe you will never accomplish your goals if you don’t write them down. But if you are like I am, you write them down and then forget where you placed them. I have found it helpful to write my goals into prayers and pray them every day. That keeps me aware of them and makes me dependent on God’s help.

·      Planning tomorrow today. This may sound like a lot of work, but it is actually very simple. Before you end your day write down what you plan to accomplish the next day. Keep the list short. I like to put things on my list that I feel are important but that I do every day, like read the Bible, pray, and work out. This process works best when you also have deadlines in mind for projects.

 

2. Sharpening.

I find it interesting that sharpening is required for effective work. If you want to get good work done, then you must have a good plan for rest, exercise, and healthy eating. Also, I believe you must learn how to harness technology. There are many wonderful apps that can help you be more organized. Use technology but do not get consumed by it. I have found that it is easy to waste a lot of time if I try to use too many “time saving” apps. Find what works best and keep it simple.

 

3. Working.

Hard work is important but smart work is even more important. Too many times we start with work when we should start with planning and sharpening. Following these simple steps will help you become more productive and will help you manage your schedule rather than your schedule managing you. 

Successful People Must Learn to Deal with Criticism

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There is an immutable truth about success. If you succeed, you will be criticized. Succeed in family life and there will be those who pick you apart and cut you down. They will look closely for faults. Succeed in business or ministry and people who don’t know you will hammer you and say things about you that they would never say to your face. Wherever you find success, there you will find critics waiting to tear you down. It is a sinful condition of human nature based on envy and jealousy. But if you want success, then you must prepare for criticism. 

No one likes to be criticized. Some people handle it well and others do not. You can deal with criticism by becoming bitter, angry, defensive, and withdrawn. You could be too sensitive and let it hurt you and lead you into discouragement or depression. Or you could see criticism for what it is, keep a good perspective, learn from constructive criticism, and ignore invalid criticism. Here are a few ways to handle criticism.

 

1. Give yourself permission to succeed. 

My dad used to tell me that if people were kicking me in the tail it meant that I was out in front. If you want to avoid all criticism, then never lead and never do anything. In fact, just talk about how you would do it differently and criticize those who are actually leading and taking risks. Criticism goes with the territory of leadership and success. You have to believe in the vision you have and learn to ignore the critics. Give yourself permission to succeed. If you don’t believe in your vision no one will. 

 

2. Give yourself permission to do it differently.

Successful leaders - be they pastors, business professionals, politicians, or whomever - are trailblazers. You have to allow yourself to break tradition and do things differently. That is sometimes hard to do. I know when I started Avalon Church, I often felt guilty about the way we did things. It was completely different from the traditional styles of ministry that I had always done. It was also what God had called me to do and is a huge reason for the growth of our church. I had to decide whether I wanted to please God or man. Thankfully I chose to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. It was still difficult for me to give myself permission to do things differently because I was criticized.

 

3. Don’t feel guilty about success. 

Often people criticize because of envy. That is not always the case, but it is root cause of much criticism. Some will criticize without having all the facts. Don’t let your success be a stumbling block in your life. If you become filled with pride over your success that is sinful. On the other hand, don’t apologize for being successful. Thank God and give him the glory.

 

4. Realize that it is ok if not everyone agrees.

Why some people believe that everyone has to be exactly the same in every little thing baffles me. I am not talking about major things, like what you believe about Jesus, but minor things like leadership styles, family traditions, business practices, or personal habits. God is wonderfully creative and uses many unique things for his glory. If he created over 300,000 species of beetles, then why should it surprise us that he uses churches, families, businesses, and individuals with differing styles? Don’t let it bother you if not everyone agrees with you or if people are jealous or envious of your success. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ and worry about pleasing him!

Find Margin and Gain Control of Your Schedule 

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Do you ever feel like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done? Silly question. If you do not take control of your schedule, then your schedule will control you. This kind of living inevitably leads to more stress, a neglected family life, poor health, and ineffective work. It could be that you are a victim of disorganization or perhaps you like to feel needed and important, so you do more than you should. But like the apostles discovered in the book of Acts, an out of control schedule leads to a feeble and immobilized mission. The same is true with your job and family. 

Here are a few principles that will help you get control of your schedule and be more effective in work and family life.

Prioritize

In the book of Acts the apostles prioritized prayer, studying the Word of God, and preaching. They realized that they could not bear the demands of the ministry alone. There were some things that mattered more than others. You must set priorities, or you will not get the most important things done. There are a few things that only you can do so focus on those things and give everything else away. If you fail to prioritize then you will become a slave to the demands of your relentless schedule.

Simplify

You simply can’t do everything. It is insane to think that you can keep on adding to your schedule without ever eliminating anything. If you are going to exercise, you have to prioritize it in your schedule by adding a time and a plan. You also have to eliminate something so that exercise time can take its place. Don’t be deceived into thinking that you can keep on adding without ever simplifying as well. That is not a sustainable plan. You must learn the power of no so you can experience the joy of yes. 

Embrace a less is more philosophy

By doing less you can accomplish more. Focus on your strengths so you can do what you have been called to do. Do not rob your family or work of your energy because you have failed to prioritize. By doing fewer things you can accomplish more. Your family will thank you for it and you will be healthier as well.

Don’t feel guilty

Once you have decided what to simplify, what to keep, and what to get rid of, you do not need to feel guilty about your choices. You have made a wise choice. You have chosen to say “no” to some things so you can say “yes” to more important things. You can’t do everything, so do not feel guilty about what God has called you to do. 

It is OK if not everyone agrees

Not everybody will agree with your choices. That is OK. My dad used to tell me that if somebody was kicking me in the tail it meant that I was in front, and they were behind me. 

Invest in yourself

A schedule that is so hectic that you don’t have time to invest in yourself or your family is a schedule that will eventually destroy you. Invest in rest. Invest in exercise. Invest in worship and serving. Invest in your family. Invest in learning. These investments pay immeasurable dividends. Unless you learn to invest in yourself, your health, your family, your relationships, your mental health, and your relationship with God will suffer. 

Take some time to examine your schedule. Is it serving you or are you serving it? The answer to that question determines your future! 

How to Rest, Recover, and Rejuvenate Without Quitting Church 

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In the Creation Story, God gave us an important principle for successful living. He wants us to learn to rest in Him. Because of His grace, we work fromrest, not forrest. God created the universe and then rested on the 7thday. It is not that God gets tired but that he modeled for us a very important principle of trusting him. In fact, He even put in the 10 Commandments that we should take a Sabbath day. I often say that you can get more done in 6 days than in 7 when you follow God’s plan. Trusting in Him is the only way to true rest and rejuvenation. It is a matter of faith. 

This principle of giving God first place is found throughout Scripture. God wants to be first in our relationships, first in our time, and first in our finances. Without putting God first in these areas, we become guilty of idolatry and fail to experience the kind of spiritual restoration that each of us so desperately needs. 

It is easy to get out of the habits that help us during the summer.

If you do not practice resting in Him, then you will take vacation, but you will not truly rest. This rest is tied to worshipping and trusting God. It is easy to get out of the habits that help us during the summer. Your schedule is different. Your routines are different. As such, it is easy to stop doing the things that you really need to do. If we stop our helpful habits, we harm ourselves and fail to get the rest and rejuvenation we really need. 

This summer I want to challenge you to find real rest. Stay faithful to the thing you need most – worshipping God. How do we do this? 

1.    Vacation but don’t vacate. 

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

2.    Worship without walking away. 

Make sure that you take the needed break that your job allows, but also, determine that you will continue serving during the summer. When you are away, find someone to replace you in your ministry position at church. Don’t let that fall on someone else. I am not suggesting that you need to skip your vacation to work in Guest Services or Avalon Kids, but I am saying that you need to serve during the summer when you are not on vacation. We certainly need you, but to be honest, you need it more. It is vital that you stay connected to your area of service and to the people in your small group and ministry team.

3.    Maintain your spiritual disciplines. 

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

Also determine to be faithful in your giving. This is an incredible act of worship. You can automate your giving here. This helps you stay connected to God’s blessings and helps us maintain the ministry of Avalon Church even while you are away. 

I hope you have the most restful summer ever and come back fired up for Jesus!

Mid-Year Checkup: Are You Still Reading the Bible?

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Many Christians start their year with a goal of reading the Bible regularly. They start out well, but before you know it, their schedule gets the best of them and that plan slowly falls by the wayside. I want to encourage you to take a spiritual checkup. If you have become inconsistent in reading the Bible, then make a recommitment today! It is one of the most important habits you can develop as a Christian. 

Here are a few tips to help you read the Bible in a way that you can understand it: 

  • Choose a good translation. 

Many people become discouraged because they don’t seem to understand the Bible.  One of the big reasons is because they start with a translation of the Bible that uses outdated language. When the Bible was originally written, it was written in the common language of the people. The reason so many translations are available today is because language changes over time. A more modern, easier to understand translation enables you to understand what God is saying to you. Don’t be intimidated by the many choices. They all have the same meaning. The translation that I recommend for devotional reading is the New Living Translation. There are many other good translations that will help you understand what you read. 

  • Get in the right frame of mind.

Make sure that you remove as many distractions as possible. Turn off the television, the radio, and social media and find a quiet place to read. Make sure you are completely awake. You can even read out loud to help your comprehension. Start with a simple prayer like this: “Father, I am coming to you to ask for your help in understanding what you want to say to me today. Help me clear my mind and focus on you. Help me to obey what I read, to claim Your promises, to confess my sins and to change anything about my life that is displeasing to You. Help me as I read Your Word. Amen.”   

  • Select a good plan.

There are many wonderful reading plans. Start with one that is simple and short. You can move on to longer plans as you get into a regular routine

  • Read slowly and think about what you read.

Don’t try to race through the Bible. Make sure to read and meditate on what you have read by asking yourself questions like the following:What is God saying to me? What do I need to change in my life? What do I need to believe? What sins do I need to forsake? How can I see Jesus in what I read? What does this say to me about God’s grace? This helps you to think about what you read.

  • Choose the right time. 

Choosing a time is very important for consistency in reading the Bible. You have a time to go to work, a time to go to church, a time to pay your bills and you need a time to read the Bible. I find it helpful to read in the morning before everything gets started with my day.  If I do not read in the morning, I often get too busy during the day to read. If you are not a morning person, read during your lunch break, listen to the Bible on your way to work, or before you go to bed. The important thing is to choose a time and stick with it.

Make sure you are reasonable when selecting how much time to read the Bible. If you have never read the Bible and you work or go to school, you most likely will not follow through with a goal of an hour a day. But you can read fifteen minutes a day. If you read just fifteen minutes a day you can read the entire Bible in a little more than a year.

  • Find the right place. 

It is important to find a quiet place to read where you will not be disturbed. It could be in your living room or kitchen before everyone else gets up. It could be on your front porch in the morning or evening. It could be in your bedroom, out in the yard, or any other place where you can find fifteen minutes of solitude. If you try, you can find a place that will allow a few minutes of peace and quiet with God each day.

One of the most helpful tools I have found is the Bible App, also known as You Version. You can download it on your phone or on your computer. There are many different plans available in many different translations. The good news is that it is absolutely free! You can go to www.bible.com or download it from the App Store. Get started or re-started today. It will strengthen your faith and lift your spirits. Most of all, it will help you to focus on Jesus every day. 

 

How to Automate What is Most Important in Your Life

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Summer is one of the busiest times of the year for most people. During really busy times it is easy forget some of the important things.  Three things Kim and I consider very important are honoring God with our finances, attending church, and serving.If you commit to these three things, then I believe that you 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. The things we automate in our lives get done. If you want to save for your kid’s college education, you make it automatic.  If you want to save for retirement, you automate it through your employer.  If you want to honor God in your giving, you can automate that too. By automating your giving, you help Avalon Church maintain a strong commitment to the mission of God even when you are away during summer vacation. 

Here’s why it is important.

1.   Automation communicates prioritization.   When you make something automatic, you remove emotion from the decision.  You do it because it’s important and because you truly want to, not just because you feel like it. By setting up your giving automatically, you make sure that your giving is consistent and faithful.

2.   Automation trumps determination.  Determination is good, but even the most determined person can be forgetful. 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 of God for your life. It is great, and it is convenient!  Automation beats determination every time.

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! 

 

 

 

Think Better, Live Better

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

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

1.    Ask God to deepen your faith.

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

2.    Commit to reading the Scriptures.

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

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

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

4.    Surround yourself with the right people. 

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

How is your life better when you remain positive? What relationships do you need to change or challenge to create a more positive environment in your life? 

 

Courage – The Secret Sauce for Success

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If we let it, life will hold us hostage with the icy grip of fear. Fear paralyzes and holds us still when we know we should act. It causes us to make poor decisions; ones that we regret later. Only humans feel regret and remorse. I believe that is because we are made in the image of God. We can appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. We can observe His creative order. The lion has no sorrow or feelings of regret when it chases down the weak or the old or the young. God did not make animals with the ability to reason or feel remorse. He did give that to us. We get to choose courage over fear.

So, what do you do with fear? It is as inevitable as the sunset. Even the bravest heroes have fears that whisper in their ear when no one is watching. Quite frankly, a life that never feels fear is a life without adventure. Not much anxiety rises from petting a kitten but track a lion on foot in the African savannah and stare into its amber eyes as it gives you a warning roar and you will feel something. Heady moments like that make life worth living. You feel. You drink the good wine of life. You know that you can conquer, and it brings the sweet taste of passion to your lips.  

Never ask for a fearless life. That would be an empty prayer. God does not give a spirit of fear. A spirit of fear is different than the fear we feel when facing a giant. We are not to be controlled by fear, but God invites us to a life of courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather, it is acting in the face of fear. It is doing the right thing when you do not know what the outcome will be. It is making right choices even if the cost is great. Courage knows the cost of cowering is far greater. 

To do this you must keep your eyes on Jesus Christ at all times. Read what He said. Do what He bids. You must also believe in yourself. I do not mean the kind of meaningless froth that modern ego-maniacs try to sell in their self-help books, but the kind of belief that knows that God is in control, He has created you, and He has a purpose for your life. When everyone else folds their tent and goes home, you stay on the battle field and fight and believe. Before long, your courage will annihilate your fear and you will become a man or woman of God; not because of the random chance of your chromosomes, but by virtue of the bold deeds you have done. 

Be bold, for that is the only kind of life worth living. 

 

What I Would Say to Young Men about Respect

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I believe that our culture needs godly men more than ever. We live in a time when respect, honor, duty, and Christian manhood is often mocked and seldom taught. I believe that our society needs real men who will lead with love and strength. We need steel and velvet. Warriors and lovers. I want to challenge young men to step up and be what God has called them to be and do. While I believe that your relationship with God is the most important, I believe respect is also vital to becoming a man, not just a male with body hair.

Most of you are too young to think that Aretha Franklin is cool, but she has a song that spells out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” I think that respect is a huge thing in life. I have tried my best to teach young men about respect over the years. I truly believe respect is one of the key things that helps a person be successful in life. I also believe that it is one of just a few things that parents MUST teach their kids. Perhaps your parents taught you well or perhaps they did not. Either way, you can learn respect God’s way. 

  • You must respect God.The Bible refers to this as reverent fear for God. You must respect and revere God and keep Him at the center of your life. You will not always understand everything about God. He is far too vast for our finite minds to comprehend. You can know Him though. He loves you. Always approach Him with reverent fear.
  • You must respect authority.You will not always agree with authority. I hope you have learned how to respect those that you disagree with. That is rare in our time. There is far too much venom in our culture today. Be a part of the solution not a part of the problem.
  • You must respect yourself.Don’t go through life with a small view of yourself or the life God has given you. You are unique and have a unique purpose in life. You have been called to accomplish something great. You are a leader and can accomplish your mission when you trust God. Do not operate in ego or pride. Admit it when you fail. Be transparent with your success and your mistakes. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. Work on your strengths most. Surround yourself with others who are good at what you are not. 
  • You must respect others without fearing them.Fear God and only God. Respect all men. Cower before none. Stand in awe of God and his creation. Admire others and congratulate them for the good things in their life but do not stand in awe of men. They are only human, and the fear of man leads to failure. You are their equal and they are yours. Your attitude will separate you; your work ethic, and your lack of fear will also make a difference. Lead when others tremble. Do not be afraid to take risks. 
  • You must respect your woman.This is true for those who are married and those who hope to be. When God gives you a special woman that you love with all your heart, it is a great gift. Respect her, cherish her, and love her. Try to understand her but understand that some things are a mystery. What you don’t understand about her makes her mysterious and special. Some things are not meant to be understood. They are meant to bring us awe. You can understand football, hunting, work, how to fix things, and other dudes but probably not women. On the other hand, you will get to make love to your wife and become one with her. That is worth not understanding a few things. Be kind to her. Do not belittle or berate her. God has charged the man with the responsibility of sanctifying his wife.

One key to becoming the right kind of man is giving and possessing respect. You can do this. You won’t always get everything right, but you can always be respectful to others and yourself. My prayer for you is that you will be the change that our world needs. 

Now go seize the day. 

 

What My Kids Taught Me about Life

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  • Kids lower the standard for your amazement. Before you had kids, you were hard to impress. Once you have a child, you act like no other child has ever walked, talked, or pooped before.
  • Insanity is hereditary. You inherit it from your kids. 
  • Kids keep you really young…like wanting to take a nap! 
  • They wear you out but energize you at the same time.
  • They are like sponges. They reflect both the good and the bad in us.
  • They make you feel love like you never have felt.
  • They worry you, make you angry, break your heart, and frustrate you but never in a million years would you ever trade the life that you have with them.
  • Whenever you are really proud of them, they are probably getting ready to embarrass you.
  • They are truly a gift from God.
  • They are not perfect…but then again, neither are you.
  • You can never afford them, and they cost way more than you ever thought they would, but they are worth every penny and a whole lot more.
  • They often stray…but they come back.
  • You should never give up on them.
  • When you get frustrated about poop diapers, spilled milk, handprints on the walls, broken furniture, broken rules, teenage angst, bad attitudes, bad grades, bad choices, lights left on, bed rooms not cleaned, loud music, late nights, weird styles, and all that goes with being a parent, just remember that way too soon your house will be empty, and you will long for the noisy, messy days. 
  • Get even with your kids by spending their inheritance now!

 

How to Know if You Should Get Baptized

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One of my favorite things is baptizing new believers. It brings me a lot of joy because I know that these individuals are serious about their relationship with Christ. At Avalon Church we have been privileged to baptize thousands of people since September of 2001 since we started the church. I am often asked about baptism. It is an act of obedience to God and is a symbol of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. Baptism does not save a person; rather it is a symbol of commitment to the Lord. People often wonder about baptism, so here are the reasons why should you be baptized. 

1.    Because you have received Christ. 

At Avalon, we practice “believer’s baptism.” All that means is that you get baptized after you receive Christ. The two most common questions I get asked about baptism are, “What if I was baptized as a baby or as a child,”and, “What if I got baptized before, but I feel like I just recently got saved because I was not really sure about my salvation before?”These are excellent questions.

First of all, I tell people who were baptized as a baby that believer’s baptism is different. Sometimes people feel pressure from their families because they were baptized as an infant. The reasoning is often based on an emotional family dynamic. They may feel like you are “rejecting the family” if you get baptized again. I explain that baby baptism is like a dedication of the child. (There are some that believe that infant baptism saves a person, but we do not believe the Bible teaches that. We do “baby dedications” but not baby baptisms. We believe the Bible teaches that believer’s baptism is when a person consciously follows Christ in baptism after they get saved.) So, if you were baptized as a baby and you received Christ later, then you should get baptized. 

I also tell people they should get baptized if they have recently received Christ because of doubt. For example, let’s suppose that you professed faith as a young person, but recently you began to feel that you did not fully understand what you did. Since you now understand it, you prayed to receive Christ. I believe that if that has been your experience, then you should get baptized again. Let me be clear about this. I do not believe that you need to get saved again and again. I believe the Bible terminology of “being born again” only needs to happen once. Based on God’s grace and the finished work of Jesus, I get saved through faith, not because I have been a good person. The reason I encourage people to get baptized when they have this experience is to help them have the full assurance of their salvation. Nothing is more crippling in the Christian life than being unsure of your relationship to God. I believe children can receive Christ. I was saved and baptized at age eight. But not every person feels that they fully understood when they were young. For that reason, I encourage those who feel like they did not fully understand and have recently decided to follow Christ to get baptized. 

2.    Because Jesus was baptized. 

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the river.” (Mark 1:9)Jesus was baptized, and we should follow his example.

3.    Because Jesus commanded all believers to be baptized.

“Jesus said, ‘Go then, to all people everywhere andmake them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…’”  (Matt. 28:19-20) Jesus actually commanded his followers to get baptized. I can’t think of a more compelling reason. 

4.    Because it shows that I really have been saved. 

“...many of the people who heard him believedand were baptized.”  (Acts 18:8) I understand when people have a fear of water or a fear of being in front of lots of people. However, those are not legitimate excuses to delay getting baptized. When you get saved, you want to please Jesus and you want others to know you have followed him.

5.    Because It illustrates Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Christ died for our sins... He was buried...and He rose again.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) Baptism pictures how Jesus made it possible for us to be made right with God. 

6.    It illustrates my new life as a Christian.

“When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand-new person inside. The old life has passed away and a new life has begun!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17) When you get saved, you have been made new! Baptism illustrates that you believe in the finished work of Jesus. 

At Avalon Church we baptize by immersion because baptism in the Bible was done that way. The word baptize means “to dip under water.” 

If you wish to be baptized at Avalon Church, then please let us know. Fill out a Next Step Card at church, attend the Next Step Class, send us an email, a voice mail, or a Facebook message, or speak with someone on the prayer team after church. Or better yet, you can get baptized any time we have baptism. We have clothes and towels and you can just tell us, “I want to be baptized today.” We will be thrilled about your decision! 

 

Easter is Over…Now Take Your Next Step

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What a great celebration we had on Easter weekend at Avalon Church! Seeing our church buy in to the vision by giving, serving, praying, and inviting is always special. Seeing dozens of people get saved or get reconnected to their faith was amazing. But now that Easter is over, what is your next step? What do you need to do to continue to move down the path of your spiritual journey? Here are three things you need to do:

1.     Plan to Attend the Next Step Class Sunday, April 15th.

The Next Step classes help you discover what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We will teach you some basic steps for living a blessed life. You will learn about baptism, reading the Bible, prayer, making friends at church, living in financial blessing, and making an impact with your life. You will make connections with people who will love and support you. The class is after the 11:15 service. We provide free child-care and a free lunch. The class lasts approximately 2 hours.

2.     Get baptized on April 22nd.

Getting baptized after you receive Christ demonstrates your faith in Jesus and lets everyone know that you are serious about your decision to follow Christ. We will baptize on April 22nd at the 9:30 and 11:15 services. We encourage you to invite friends and family to help you celebrate this wonderful occasion.

3.     Get Connected.

Attending church every Sunday is vital to your spiritual growth. It will help you get connected quickly. You will learn what God says to us in the Bible, make new friends, grow closer to God, and learn about his love for you. Two other ways to get plugged in and make friends are to volunteer in a ministry and to join a small group.

God loves you more than you can comprehend. He has a plan for your life. He has a purpose for your life. You are not an accident! He promises that he will never leave you and that he will always be there for you no matter what. Make sure to receive all He offers by connecting to a church! Remember, God wants you to belong, not just believe. The Next Step Class will help you discover how to feel connected and to live a blessed life.

 

 

 

Why Many Christians Don’t Take Easter Seriously

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That may be a shocking headline, but I believe it is true. Easter is not that big a deal to many Christians. 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, they do go to church and many even give, serve, and participate in the activities at church. 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, the meaning, and the wonder of how the God of the universe, God the Son, would leave heaven, become human (the Creator becoming what He created), 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 would be committed by every human that would ever breathe in His air.

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 doing Easter 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 I said before. 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.     Recommit 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 drive, 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.