True Patriotism

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Friday, July 3, 2015 @ 1:46 PM

For many people, patriotism consists of putting out a flag on national holidays, standing for the national anthem at sporting events and going to the fireworks show on the Fourth of July. I would suggest that if we truly love America, our patriotism would be evident in more substantive ways.

A true patriot who believes in God will pray for America. The United States was founded as one nation under God. Our currency says, “In God we trust.” Therefore let’s pray for God’s guidance and blessing for America. We are to come humbly before God to confess our sins, repent and return to him (2 Chronicles 7:14). Could it be that some of the difficult challenges we’re experiencing in our country might be God’s way of leading us back to our faith in God and Christian values.

We will also pray for leaders at all levels of government (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Tim. 2:1-4). You may not like or agree with those in elective office who rule over us, but that doesn’t get you off the hook to pray sincerely for them to lead our country well. When our politics become too strident, we need to remember that Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). A patriot will pray for America.

A true patriot believes in righteousness and obeys the commands of Scripture. America would be a better place if we obeyed the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ lessons in the Sermon on the Mount. In Jesus’ sermon he teaches us to love others and live by the Golden Rule, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Wouldn’t America be a better place if we treated others the way we want to be treated?

A true patriot contributes to the greater good. They serve others. If you are a public servant, serve to the best of your ability as unto God. Choose to serve others as a volunteer in Christian ministries or in community organizations. Our goal as citizens is to make life better for all Americans, especially those who are the least fortunate.

On this Fourth of July anyone can put out an American Flag, watch the fireworks and sing “God Bless America.” True patriots will pray for America and its leaders, choose to live by the directives of Scripture, and serve the least among us. Have a great Fourth of July, and may God bless America.

Justice for All

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, June 25, 2015 @ 1:18 PM

God wants everyone to experience justice and be treated fairly by others.  In the Book of Nehemiah we read about how the people of Jerusalem worked hard to rebuild the walls of their city in 52 days.  Many of them missed work, didn't open their businesses, and cut back on their farming in order to devote all their effort to the cause.  As a result some of the poorest members of the community had to borrow money to provide for their families. 

In chapter 5 the walls are finished, and Nehemiah finds out that those who loaned money charged exorbitant interest and took people's land and homes as collateral.  Now they're repossessing the property, the poor are left with nothing, even their children are being sold into slavery to repay their debts.   The was unjust.  Who benefited most from the walls being rebuilt and the city being protected?  The rich did.  Now the rich people are ripping off the people who did the work.  That's not right and Nehemiah got very angry (v. 6).

Injustice isn't anything new.  It's the sin the Old Testament prophets spoke about more than any other.  Injustice exists in many forms today.  Multinational corporations place their factories in places where labor laws are lax and wages are low.  In Thailand girls are kidnapped or sold by their parents into sexual trafficking.  We take advantage of low prices because of the low wages paid to farm laborers, poorly paid wait staff at the restaurants we frequent, and inexpensive housekeepers at the hotel.

God warns us that we are not pleasing him if we take advantage of others and treat them unjustly.  In fact we are to be advocates of justice.  This Sunday when I preach on Nehemiah 5 we'll learn about the causes of injustice and discover how we can be advocates of justice in the choices we make and advocate for those in our community who are treated unjustly.  May our desire be like God's revealed in Amos 5:4, "But let justice roll like a river, righteousness like a never-failing steam."

Making the Bible Come Alive

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Friday, June 19, 2015 @ 10:55 AM

For many people the Bible seems like ancient history.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  When we read the stories in the Bible we have to remember that the people in these stories are normal, everyday people who face the same kind of challenges we face.  With a little bit of research (that can readily be done on the internet) we can learn about them and their historical context.  We can then put ourselves in their shoes and think about how we would think and feel if we were in their situation.  Some of my greatest spiritual growth has come from the character studies I've done of people in the Bible.

This Sunday I will be presenting "Profile in Courage - Nehemiah."  I'll be talking to our congregation as Nehemiah, sharing his testimony and describing God's call for him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls and the challenges he faced along the way.  In the course of Sunday's message we'll learn a lot about faith and leadership.  We'll also see first hand the courage Nehemiah had when faced with the harsh opposition from the enemies of Israel.  I think today we who are followers of Christ need Nehemiah's courage to publicaly live our faith and serve the Lord.

I find that as I learn more about the faith and humanity of the heroes of the faith found in the Bible, I'm encouraged in my own spiritual journey and inspired to serve the Lord.  Come this Sunday and get to know Nehemiah better.  And let me encourage you to use your devotional times to study the lives and times of your favorite Bible characters.

Holy Discontent

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, June 11, 2015 @ 2:30 PM

This Sunday I'm beginning a four-week series of sermons on the Old Testament character Nehemiah.  I like Nehemiah because he's someone we can all identify with.  He's a layman, not a pastor or priest or prophet - just a normal guy.  There's something God wants Nehemiah to do.  The story of Nehemiah is all about how God uses Nehemiah to accomplish His will and do His work in the world.

I believe God has things He wants us to do that'll make a difference in His kingdom, but too often we don't have any idea what God expects of us.  We haven't fine-tuned our hearing to know what God has in mind for us.  The way God works is to create a sense of Holy Discontent in our hearts.  There's something that needs to be done, and we discover we're the ones He wants to do it.

Discontent is something we all have from time to time.  Discontent motivates us to start a diet and lose some of the pounds that have been growing around our midsection.  Discontent causes us to go to a financial advisor and develop a plan to pay off debt and begin to save.  Discontent with the way things are makes us want to do something to change it.

Holy Discontent is when God is working in our heart and mind to make us realize that something needs to be done or to be changed and somebody needs to step up and do something about it.  Usually we begin by saying, "I wish someone would do something about that!"  But as God stirs Holy Discontent in us, we realize that it's us who need to act.  We're the ones God is calling.  That's what happened to Nehemiah, he sees that something needs to be done about the walls of Jerusalem that had been torn down by the Babylonians, and then realizes that God is calling him to lead the rebuilding campaign.

I would ask if there is some Holy Discontent stirring in your life?  Are you aware of a need in the church, in our community, in a mission that needs to be addressed?  Are you hoping someone else will do something about it so you don't have too?  Or are you beginning to realize that if anything is going to be done, it has to be you?  You may be the one God is calling to lead the next big endeavor.  If you're sensing some Holy Discontent in your life, it may be God calling you to serve Him.

Decisions

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, May 21, 2015 @ 8:44 PM

Every day we are confronted with decisions we have to make.  Some are minor decisions, "What are we going to eat?"  "What are we going to wear?"  "What's on TV?"  But some of the decisions we make are momentous, they can affect the rest of our lives for good or evil, and they can affect the lives of others.  The big decisions we make need to be carefully thought out and we must be guided by the values we hold dear. 

I talk to people all the time who make important life decisions impulsively based on what seems right in the moment or satisfies some perceived need.  They may make a bad decision they'll have to live with for the rest of their lives.  We all know people who made financial decisions, moral decisions, said things, did things they would regret later - but you can't undo what's been done.

Probably the best example of this is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They had it good!  God created them.  They lived in a place where every need was met.  They walked and talked with God and had a close and personal relationship with Him.  They were safe and secure.  Life was in fact perfect for them.  But then Satan showed up and tempted them to do the one thing God said they could not do, eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Satan said, "If you eat it you will be like God."  They wanted to be like God.  They wanted to call the shots and do whatever they wanted.  So they ate the forbidden fruit.

Once they disobeyed God and tasted evil, nothing would ever be the same again.  They experienced fear for the first time.  They realized they were naked.  They were ashamed.  As a result of their sin evil entered the world and God's perfect creation became infected by a deadly disease.  The consequence of Adam and Eve's sin was to be cast out of the garden where they would live by doing hard labor and ultimately die.  All their descendants, including us, are under the curse of their sin.  Talk about making a bad decision - Adam and Eve made the worst, most catastrophic decision in human history.

But we don't have to make bad decisions.  If we think through the choices and are guided by our values, if we consult with God and seek His will, we can make great decisions that enrich our lives and bless those around us.  An example of the best decision in the history of the world takes place in another garden.

Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion.  He knew the horror that awaited Him when He died for the sins of the world.   He prayed and asked God to take "this cup" from Him.  The cup is Jesus' death.  He asked God, "Is there any other way to accomplish what you want to do in this world short of my dying on the cross?"  Jesus, like any man, did not want to suffer and die.  But Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but yours be done."  Jesus came to the realization that there was no other way to forgive the sins of men and save them without His death on the cross.  He was willing to do God's will ahead of His own.  His strength was renewed to do the right thing.  He got up and willing went with the people sent to arrest Him.

Jesus' decision in the Garden of Eden to do God's will resulted in forgiveness and salvation for every person who believes in Him.  It resulted in Jesus' exultation.  He was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the throne of God.  He will come back to earth, defeat evil and establish His kingdom that will last forever. 

Our decisions will never be as consequential as Adam and Eve's or Jesus' in the garden, but they'll have a huge impact on our lives and on the lives of those we love.  If we want to make good decisions we have to follow Jesus' example.  In worship this Sunday at First Baptist Riverside my sermon is "Decisions in a Garden."  We'll look at what led Adam and Eve to make their fateful decision and what motivated Jesus to make His momentous decision, and we'll learn how to make better decisions that will improve the quality of our lives.  I hope you'll join us for traditional worship at 9:00 a.m. or contemporary worship at 10:45.

The Nature Pathway

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 @ 4:12 PM

 I'm looking forward to attending our First Baptist Riverside Camping Weekend in San Diego, May 14-17 with 115 others from our church family.  God created each of us to be unique individuals, so we all relate to God in unique ways.  A number of authors have written about various spiritual pathways people take to God.  For example, those who prefer the "relational" pathway find it easier to connect with God in a relational or group setting.  Other pathways that have been identified are intellectual, worship, activist, contemplative, serving and creation.

I look forward to Camping Weekend because two of my primary pathways are "relational" and "creation" and I get to experience both at Camping Weekend.  I get to be in relationship with people I love and care about all weekend long, culminating in a great time of worship on Sunday morning.  There's always something inspiring to me about being together for an extended period with the family of God.

I'm also inspired by being close to nature.  I know San Diego is a big city, but I love to go to the zoo or the Safari Park and see the variety of God's creation.  I'm happy to sit on a rock by the ocean and see the power of the waves and contemplate the power of a God who could make something so massive and yet even the tiniest organism is fearfully and wonderfully made.  I see the power of God in the variety of topography, vegetation and animal life He has created.

I would like to encourage you to do something I often do.  Go to a beautiful place: a garden, a zoo, a national park.  Take a walk and meditate on this idea: everything I see today reveals the wonder and majesty of God (see Psalm 8).  Marvel at how amazing God must be to have created all that you will see.  I think you'll experience what I do, it's not long before my heart is filled with worship and praise of God. 

Reminder: if you're not able to join us for Camping Weekend, you can worship at First Baptist Riverside this Sunday, May 17th at 9:00 a.m.

Generations

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, May 7, 2015 @ 3:29 PM

This Sunday as we honor mothers we'll learn about the importance of passing our faith on from one generation to another.  For many generations my ancestors did not follow Christ.  My mother's grandparents came to America looking for religious freedom; they were atheists who wanted to be free not to worship any god.  My father's family were inactive Lutherans.  When my parents were married they didn't believe in God or go to church. 

That changed when a neighbor offered to take my older sisters to Sunday school.  My parents readily agreed, happy to have free babysitting and a few hours of peace and quiet on Sunday morning.  The neighbor lady was a wonderful witness to my parents and my sisters were soon involved in special programs at the church.  They insisted my parents come watch them sing or act or be at their special events.  My parents got to know church members, met the pastor, and in time became followers of Jesus.

My parents' new-found faith played a major role in their lives.  They were changed.  Their values and morals were different.  My mom and dad worshiped and attended Bible studies to learn God's word.  They held important leadership positions in the church.  They served together as the key lay leaders in a community ministry.  My dad had a servant's heart and helped many people in need.

By the time I was old enough to remember much, my parents were Christians.  My parents were not perfect, but I was impressed by the authenticity of their faith.  Their commitment to Christ and his church played a huge role in my decision to follow Christ and later go into ministry.  Out of four kids in our family, three of us are following Jesus.  I married a Christian and our three children believe in Jesus.

Psalm 78:5-7 tells us that God "decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born.  They would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands."

As Christian parents and grandparents, we have to understand the important role we play in passing our faith on to the next generation and the one after that.  Live an authentic faith in front of your children and grandchildren.  Worship God and serve Him.  Talk to your kids and grandchildren about Jesus and why your faith is so important to you.  God has given our kids free will, so there's no guarantee that they will follow Jesus, but it's our duty to do everything in our power to guide them in the ways of Christ.  It's encouraging to see families where multiple generations have followed Christ and the faith continues to be passed on to the next generation.

The Story Ends

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, April 30, 2015 @ 4:11 PM

On September 14, 2014 our congregation began a journey through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  We used The Story as our guide, following the narrative story of God's redemptive plan to save his wayward children.  Those who have participated in The Story have read the Scriptures, heard a sermon based on their readings each week, and have reflected on The Story in their small groups and Bible classes.  This week we find out how The Story ends in the Book of Revelation.

This world will not last forever.  As the end approaches the believers in the church must be courageous, ready to endure persecution, while proclaiming the gospel for all to hear.  There will come a time of tribulation, a final battle between God and Satan, good and evil.  God will be victorious.  He will judge all people based on whether they trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation and followed him.

By the time we get to Revelation 21 and 22 we see God's creative intent come full circle from what was described in Genesis 1 and 2.  Those who inhabit heaven have trusted Jesus and are now God's children.  Unlike the first Adam and Eve, they will remain faithful to Him.  They will feed from the tree of life and drink from the stream of living water that gives eternal life to all who are in heaven.  Like Adam and Eve before their sin, we will walk with God and talk with Him.

God's invitation is for all people to "come."  God desires that every person would make a choice to believe in Jesus and to become his children.  He doesn't force us to come to him, we have to respond to the invitation.  But the Spirit says "come" and the church says "come," so come and find out what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, to have your sins forgiven and be saved and have eternal life.

A Kingdom Legacy

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Friday, April 24, 2015 @ 10:59 AM

I'm getting to the age where I look at my life and wonder, "Has anything I've done here on earth really mattered?"  "Is the world any different because I was here?"  As a Christian I think, "Have I contributed something meaningful to the kingdom of God?"  "Are there people whose lives are different, who are following Jesus because of my influence?"  These are questions of meaning.  We all want our lives to mean something.

In 2 Timothy the Apostle Paul was near the end of his life.  He was in chains in a Roman prison.  He knows that any day he will be sentenced and the sentence will be death.  So Paul writes a very moving letter to Timothy, who he calls his "son in the faith."  2 Timothy is memorable because in four short chapters there are half a dozen verses that are very familiar to Christians everywhere.

Paul explains the confidence he has in the face of impending death because of his faith.  He writes in 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day." 

Paul's faith is based on the Bible.  He speaks of... "the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, o that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:15-16)

Paul was confident in the legacy he would leave behind.  He was able to say of his life in his last days, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Will you  on the day as your death approaches be able to make such bold statements about your faith and how you lived your life for the Lord?  This Sunday I'll be preaching on "A Kingdom Legacy" and I'll use the writings of Paul in 2 Timothy as my text.  Come learn how you can leave a legacy that will honor God and help you understand how your life matters as a follower of Christ.

Kingdom Strategy

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, April 16, 2015 @ 8:33 PM

"God has a plan."  I've heard people say that in a hundred different settings.  You know what?  It's true.  God does have a plan.  When God wanted to create a world filled with people who'd be His children - He had a plan.  We see God's creative plan in Genesis 1-2.  When people chose to reject God and sin, God set in motion a redemptive plan to forgive their sins and provide a way of salvation.  For the last 28 weeks in our study of The Story we've seen God working out His redemptive plan through the Law of Moses, Israel's history, the prophets, and finally in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now that we're in the age of the church, God still has a plan.  This Sunday we're going to learn about God's "Kingdom Strategy."  In the Book of Acts and Paul's letters we see God's plan to reach the lost, build His Kingdom and change the world.  God's plan is to work through His church - and that means us - we are the body of Christ.  Each of us has a role to play in God's plan to bring about His kingdom in the world today.

I don't know about you, but I'm honored that God includes me in His Kingdom plan.  I have an opportunity to make a contribution to something far greater than myself when I use my spiritual gifts to serve God.  God can use me to change people's lives for all eternity.  Where else can we find anything as meaningful as being part of God's church and serving Him. 

At First Baptist Riverside our vision statement is to "lead people to faith in Christ and help them become C4 Christians: connect with God, care for one another, carry out the mission, and communicate the faith."  God's plan for the church is for us to worship God, support and encourage one another, serve God in the church and community by doing many of the things Jesus did, and to be His witnesses to people in our relational world.  God has a plan, He has a Kingdom Strategy, and He wants you to be part of His plan, so come join us at First Baptist as we serve God here in Riverside.

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