Are You a Kingdom Citizen?

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OA9er @ 9:24 AM

I think we do a disservice to God when we tell people that "all" they have to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus and invite Him into their lives.  There is no doubt that we are saved by faith and not by works.  The problem is that we lead people to believe that accepting Christ is a one time action rather than a lifelong journey.

It's very clear from the teachings of Jesus that the moment we accept Christ we are signing on to become a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  The idea of residing in a kingdom is a foreign concept to us, we live in a democracy.  The Kingdom of God is not a democracy.  Jesus Christ is Lord and we are to submit our lives to His governance and His leadership.

The benefits of being citizens in the Kingdom of God are the fulfillment of the promises God made to His people in the Bible.  Our sins will be forgiven, we'll be saved and have eternal life.  Jesus will give us life that is meaningful and has a purpose.  The Holy Spirit will come into our lives to guide us, to give us gifts to be able to serve God and to produce His fruit in our lives so that we'll become more like God.  God will hear our prayers and answer us.  He will give us love and joy, hope and peace.  God will provide for our needs and bless us.  The benefits of Kingdom membership are amazing.

However citizenship in the Kingdom of God comes with responsibilities as well.  God expects us to worship Him and not any idols or things in this world.  He expects us to invest the time and effort to grow in our faith and to study His word.  God has a role for every Kingdom citizen within the Body of Christ and so we need to identify our spiritual gifts and be ready to serve Him.  God expects us to tithe to provide for the work of HIs kingdom here on earth.

So the question is, are you ready to become a Kingdom citizen?  Come join us for worship this Sunday at First Baptist.  We'll continue our study of The Story and of the life of Christ by looking at Matthew 13 and a series of parables Jesus gave about the Kingdom of God.  We'll learn about what the Kingdom is like and what we need to do to become citizens.  Worship is on Sunday mornings at 9:00 (traditional worship) and 10:45 a.m. (contemporary worship).

Giving God Our Best

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP7er @ 7:09 PM

Our congregation has spent five months studying The Story, the narrative story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  This Sunday we'll finish the Old Testament portion of The Story.  We have learned so much that has enriched our faith and understanding of God's plan for this world. 

This week we'll look at the last book of the Old Testament, the teaching of the prophet Malachi.  The message of Malachi is consistent through the whole book.  Malachi challenges the people of Israel to give God their best in everything in life.  He tells them to give God their best worship, their best service, if they're married - their best marriage, their best selves, and their best offerings to God.

When you think about it, if God created the world, if He knit us together in our mother's womb and made us who we are, if He saved us from our sins through Jesus' death on the cross, if He gives life meaning and purpose and is our ever present help in time of need, if He's going to take us to heaven where we'll live with Him forever - doesn't God deserve our best?  God has always given us His best - why wouldn't we do the same for Him?

So take a look at your life.   Are you giving God your best?  If not, what would have to change for you to give God your best?  Would you need to know God better and trust Him more?  Would you need to make changes in your priorities so that God comes first?  Would you need to get in tune with God's will for your life and start doing what He wants you to do?  For each of us the answer might be a little different as to what we would need to do to give God our best.

I hope you'll join us for worship this Sunday to think further about what it means to have a great relationship with God and give Him your best.  If you haven't been part of our study of The Story, now is a great time to join us.  On March 1st we'll begin the New Testament part of The Story and get to know Jesus better.

 

For Such a Time As This

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OA10er @ 10:11 AM

Our study of The Story of the Bible brings us to Esther this Sunday.  In Esther we meet a smart and courageous women that God placed in a position of influence (Queen of Persia) to save His people Israel.  While Haman plans to exterminate the Jews, Esther's uncle Mordecai challenges her to risk her life by going to King Xerxes without being summoned and plead with him to save her people.  Mordecai says to her, "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish.  And who knows that you have not come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14)

The challenge for our lives from Esther's story is to examine what position we find ourselves in.  Has God placed us where we are, at this time and place, because there's something important He wants us to do?  Are we in a position in our church to be able to do something that God's wants us to do?  Are we in a position in our job, in the community, in our neighborhood where we can serve God in some special way?  Do we have a friend or family member that we have a relationship with that will give us the opportunity to tell them about our faith in Jesus?  Could it be that you have come to your position for such a time as this?

 

God's Priorities / Our Priorities

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP7er @ 7:54 PM

This week we come to Chapter 19 in The Story as the Jews return home following nearly seventy years of exile in Babylon.  What they find in Jerusalem is complete destruction, everything is in ruins.  The Temple is demolished.  The walls of the city are torn down.  The Jews have been sent by King Cyrus for the express purpose of rebuilding the Temple as a place for people to worship God.  They begin rebuilding the temple, but the threats of their enemies discourage them.  Their desire for comfort distracts them as they built rebuild their own houses and businesses before building the Lord's house.

The title for Sunday's sermon is "God's Priorities / Our Priorities."  There is a constant tension in our lives today between what God expects of us and what we want to do.  We have to make a choice.  Does God come first in our lives or do we?  What happens to many of us is that when we become Christians we're excited about our faith, there's nothing we won't do for God.  But then our zeal diminishes.  We lose our first love for the Lord (Revelation 2:4).  We become lukewarm in our faith (Revelation 3:16).  We put our wants ahead of the Lord.

God's word tells us to repent, to turn around and put Him first.  We have all eternity to enjoy the blessings of being God's children in heaven, but this life is to be lived for the Lord.  That doesn't mean we can't have any fun or do any of the things we want.  It just means God comes first.  It was C.S. Lewis who said, "Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things."  When we put God first, what we find is that we do what matters for God and we get to do many of the things we want to do too. 

This week I'd like to challenge you to consider who you're living for.  Are you live for God's priorities or for your own priorities?  I hope you'll come worship with us this Sunday and give some further thought to "God's Priorities / Our Priorities."

You Are Not Alone

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP6er @ 6:49 PM

My favorite story in the Book of Daniel is the story of the fiery furnace and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  King Nebuchadnezzar had an image of himself made that was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.  Nebuchadnezzar decreed that everyone in the Babylonian Empire must bow down and worship the image or else they would immediately be thrown into the fiery furnace. 

The Book of Daniel is all about how the faithful Jewish remnant in Babylon refused to conform to the culture in which they lived and they worshiped and served only the Lord.  Therefore Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar's image.  This news was reported to Nebuchadnezzar.  He had the three men brought in and gave them an ultimatum to fall down and worship the image or be thrown into the furnace.

Needless to say they refused to worship the image.  The three men were courageous.  They say in Daniel 3:17-18, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from Your Majesty's hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."  Nebuchadnezzar was furious.   He ordered the furnace turned up seven times hotter than normal.  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were bound and thrown into the furnace, which was so hot, it killed some of the guards that threw them into the blazing furnace.

What Nebuchadnezzar saw next was amazing.  Instead of being instantly killed, the men walked around in the furnace.  When Nebuchadnezzar looked carefully, he saw not three men in the furnace, but four.  God was with them and rescued them from the fire.  Therefore Nebuchadnezzar called the three to come out of the furnace and he honored God saying that no other God is able to save His people in this way.

The point of the story is that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful to God even against the threats of Nebuchadnezzar.  How many of us would have compromised and conformed to the edict of the king in order to save our lives?  Probably more of us than we would care to admit.  But God wants us to be faithful to Him and to the values and standards of our faith even though others may mock us and even harm us.  We see in this story in Daniel 3 that when we are faithful, God is with us and He will help us through any trial we may have to endure.  I don't know that God will save us from our trial like he did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They weren't sure either.  They knew God could deliver them unharmed, but even if He didn't, they were going to stay true to their faith. 

My prayer is that I will be true to my God and to my faith.  I want to serve God and not be afraid, not because there isn't any danger, but because I trust God to see me through the trial.  There is no greater example of this than Jesus Christ, whom God would not deliver from His suffering, but He faithfully did the Father's will and died for our sins.  Let Jesus be our example.  May we always be faithful to do whatever God asks us to do.

Revive Us Again!

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP7er @ 7:32 PM

This Sunday I get to preach on one of my favorite Bible passages, Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37.  The vision takes place when the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon.  To all the world their nation appeared to be completely destroyed and dead.  But Ezekiel prophesies that God is going to bring Israel back to life, like He brought the dry bones in Ezekiel's vision back to life.

Because we're human, there are times in our lives when we go through spiritual valleys.  Maybe we're not spiritually dead, but we're not as healthy or doing as well as we ought.  We need God to revive us again.  God wants to give us life and vitality so that we can live our faith and be a witness to others.  This Sunday in worship we're going to learn how we can prepare ourselves for God to revive us and give us new spiritual life.

What is true in our lives is also true for churches.  In the Book of Revelation Jesus sent letters to churches in Asia Minor.  To one church Jesus wrote about how they'd lost their first love for Him.  He tells them to repent and consider how far they'd fallen.  They're to do what they did when they first followed God and loved Him with all their hearts - that's revival!  Jesus told the church in Laodicea that their faith was lukewarm and it made Him sick.  Jesus told them to repent and that He stands at the door of their lives and their church knocking, and if they opened the door He will come in - that's revival!  We need to pray for revival in our lives and in our church, to invite Jesus in to restore our first love and to make us red hot in our passion to live for Him and serve Him.  God can take the dry bones of a church that's grown complacent and give it new life. 

I'm excited about what God is doing at First Baptist Riverside.  We're digging into our Bibles to see what God is saying to us in The Story.   We're serving God in our community seeking to be His salt and light in an unbelieving world.  We're trying to use our actions and words to be witnesses for Jesus so that the people we interact with might come to know Him.  We need to take the next step and pray for God to bring the kind of revival and vitality to our church that only God can provide.  If you want to know more about this revival, come and worship with us at First Baptist this Sunday at 9:00 and 10:45 a.m.

Judgment and Hope

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OA9er @ 9:34 AM

This Sunday our study of The Story includes the life and ministry of Isaiah the prophet.  Isaiah was given the difficult task of proclaiming God's punishment and  judgment against Judah because of their sins.  For over 200 years God had been sending His prophets to warn the people to change their ways.  But the people didn't listen.  They continued to worship false gods, engaged in sexual immorality, and they were unjust in their dealings with the poorest and weakest members of society.  Because Israel and Judah were to be God's witness to the world, He could not leave their sins unpunished.

However, Isaiah's proclamation of judgment was intertwined with the greatest message of hope any people has ever received.  While judgment would be harsh at the hands of the Babylonians, God would preserve Judah and bring her home from exile.  One day a virgin will miraculously conceive and give birth to a child and He will be called Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14).  He will be a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a descendent of David, the future king (Isaiah 11:1).  He will be God's Son, come to earth to proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release to prisoners, and to declare the year of the Lord's favor (Isaiah 61:1-2).  He will also be a Suffering Servant, come to earth to pay for the sins of His people - He will be pierced for our transgressions and by His wounds we will be healed (Isaiah 53:5).

The first lesson we learn from Isaiah is that there are consequences to our sins.  As much as God loves us He cannot overlook our sins and pretend they didn't happen.  We must change our ways and seek to live lives that are pleasing to Him.  Our goal is to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).

The second lesson to learn is that there is hope for sinners because God is gracious and merciful.  God fulfilled every prophecy of hope in Isaiah by sending His Son Jesus who died on the cross to pay the penalty we owe for sin.  Jesus is willing to offer forgiveness to anyone who believes in Him.  If you're a sinner (and you are as am I!) you don't have to experience God's judgment and wrath.  There is hope of forgiveness and grace if you believe in Jesus.

If you'd like to learn more about Isaiah and judgment and hope, come and worship with us this Sunday at First Baptist Riverside at 9:00 or 10:45 a.m. or listen to the sermon online next week.

God's Messengers

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP6er @ 6:56 PM

When we think about having faith in God we think about, "What's in it for me?"  There are all kinds of good things that come from being a Christian: our sins are forgiven, our relationship with God is restored, we're given life that is meaningful and eternal, God hears our prayers and answers us, He makes us better people by producing the fruit of the Spirit in us.  I could go on all day and fill this page with the benefits that our ours when we invite Jesus to be our Savior and Lord.

What we don't think about so much is, "What does God expect from me?"  He expects us to have faith, to obey Him and serve Him.  One of the ways we serve Him is by being "God's Messengers."  This Sunday we'll continue our study of The Story in Chapter 15, "God's Messengers."  We'll learn about some of the prophets God sent to represent Him in the Northern Kingdom of Israel: Elijah, Elisha, Amos and Hosea.

As believers we are to be "God's Messengers" to the people in the community where we live.  We may be the only representative of God some people will ever see.  We're God's hands and feet.  We're His eyes and ears.  We're God's voice to speak truth to the people we come into contact with.  How do we do that in an authentic way that is relevant to the needs and concerns of the people around us?  In this Sunday's message I'll be using the prophet Elisha as an example of someone who represented God to the people of His culture.  Elisha spent most of his time with the common people of His day, showing them in his actions and words what God is like and what God expects of them. 

This may be the most important sermon I've given based on The Story to date.  Our world is changing.  Most of the people God wants us to reach are living in a postmodern culture.  The old ways of evangelism and outreach are not going to be as effective as they once were.  We have to rethink how we represent Christ in our community.  The good news is that the new way is less pressure and less intimidating for us and for the person we're trying to share Christ with.  I hope you'll come to worship and allow the Holy Spirit to convince you that there's a new way of living as God's people that was really the old way of living for the prophets like Elisha and the early believers in the Book of Acts. 

Come worship with us at First Baptist Riverside, 5500 Alessandro Blvd, at 9:00 and 10:45 a.m. and consider what it means for you to be God's Messenger in the world today.

Make 2015 A Great Year!

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP2er @ 2:34 PM

One of our traditions on New Year's Day is the make resolutions for what we would like to accomplish in the year ahead.  Some of our resolutions deal with practical issues like losing weight or eliminating debt.  Other resolutions may be aspirational, we might resolve to take the trip we always wanted to take.

Let me suggest you make a spiritual resolution for 2015 to take your relationship with God to a whole new level.  A great way to do that is to commit to study The Story at First Baptist Riverside.  Buy The Story for each member of your family if you don't already have it.  This week read chapter 14.  Attend worship on Sundays at 9:00 and 10:45 a.m. to hear a message based on your reading.  Join a small group or Bible class to go deeper each week.  If you have to miss a Sunday, go online at www.fbriv.org to listen to the sermon.  Invite your family to join you in studying The Story and use the readings as the basis for your family devotions.

This week we'll learn how the kingdom of Israel was divided into a northern kingdom (Israel) and southern kingdom (Judah) after Solomon's death.  One of the reasons for the division was because Solomon and Rehoboam listened to some really bad advice.  The practical application: "Who Do You Listen To?"  We all need advice sometimes.  Are we listening to people who will give us good advice so that we can make good decisions?  Or do we listen to people who may not have our best interests at heart or may mislead us?  Listening to the wrong people can mess up God's plans for our lives.  Listening to the right people can enhance our relationship with God and help us serve God more effectively.

I wish you much joy and happiness in the new year!  May God richly bless your life.

Merry Christmas

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP5er @ 5:43 PM

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  May Jesus be at the center of your Christmas celebration and may He guide you through 2015.

If you're looking for a way to include Jesus in your Christmas and you're in Riverside, join us at First Baptist Church for our Christmas Eve Worship on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.  It's called "First Christmas Stories of Christ's Birth."  We'll hear the Christmas story from the perspective of some of the people who were there as well as sing some of our favorite Christmas carols and light the Christmas candles.  Bring your friends and family to church on Christmas Eve.  Childcare is provided for children preschool and younger.

On Sunday December 28th we'll worship with our regular schedule of Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.  The sermon is "The Have to's vs. the Want to's."  Our goal is to live out our Christian faith because we want to, not because we have to.  In fact, that's a great resolution for 2015.  We at First Baptist are wishing you God's very best in 2015.

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