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.

The Power of the Kingdom

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Friday, April 10, 2015 @ 4:17 PM

Since September our congregation has been studying The Story in worship and in our small groups and Bible classes.  The Story follows the narrative story of the Bible and helps us to see the flow of history and the development of God's plan to redeem His people who are lost in their sins.  I think we've all learned a great deal through the 27 weeks of our study, including the good news of Jesus' Resurrection last Sunday.  Now we come to the final section of The Story: four weeks to learn about the establishment of the church, Jesus' return, and the promise of heaven described in the Book of Revelation.

This Sunday our theme is "The Power of the Kingdom."  We'll learn about Jesus' final instructions to His followers to be His witnesses, first in their hometown, and then to take the message to the ends of the earth.  We'll also be introduced to the Holy Spirit who comes on Pentecost to fill the lives of the believers.  The Holy Spirit is the gift of God to every believer today as well.  We need to allow Him to be our guide through life, the one who reveals Christ to us, produces the fruit of a godly life in us, and gives us gifts to do the work God wants us to do. 

The Holy Spirit is also the power that enables the church to be Body of Christ.  The Spirit unifies us as God's people, creates a sense of community among believers, He empowers us to serve one another and our community and the ability to share the gospel with those who don't know it. 

If you want the Holy Spirit, God's presence in your life, then ask Jesus to forgive your sins, make you right with God, and invite Him to be in charge in your life.  The more you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your life and obey His leadings, the stronger He will become.  Don't quench the Spirit, which is usually the result of not listening to the Spirit or doing what He asks us to do.  The more we ignore the Holy Spirit, the less impact He will have in our lives.

If you're interested in learning how the Holy Spirit can be God's power in your life and transform your life and the church you're part of, come and worship with us at First Baptist this Sunday.  God wants to fill you with His presence, He's just waiting for you to turn your life over to Him.

Have You Seen the Risen Christ?

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, April 2, 2015 @ 8:05 PM

This Sunday we will celebrate the best news in the history of the world.  God's Son Jesus Christ came to earth to save us.  On Thursday night He was arrested, beaten and put through a gauntlet of questioning and trials before the religious leaders.  On Friday He was convicted by Pilate and sentenced to be crucified.  He suffered an agonizing death, enduring God's wrath for the sins of the world so that we can be forgiven and saved.

On Friday night and Saturday Jesus' followers were in a state of shock.  By Sunday morning they were already starting to disperse and go back to their homes and lives.  But a few women went to the tomb where Jesus' body was laid - and they found it empty.  They went to tell the disciples who ran to the tomb and they too found it empty.  Then Jesus began to appear to his followers, first to Mary, then to a couple of his followers on the road to Emmaus, and finally to the disciples and followers in the upper room.  He appeared to Thomas, inviting him to touch the nail holes in his hands and the wound from the spear in his side.  Jesus is alive!

The resurrection is the most important news in the world because it's vindication, proving that Jesus is who He said He is - He's the Son of God.  The resurrection is good news because it means that Jesus has provided a way of salvation for sinners.  The resurrection means that we can be part of a movement to change the world (not with bombs and bullets like the Muslim radicals) but by Jesus' ethic of love and service.  The resurrection means that we can have eternal life and a relationship with God that will never end.

The Apostle Paul understood the importance of the resurrection.  He says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."  He goes on in verse 17, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins."  Without Jesus' resurrection our Christian faith collapses.  It's useless to say that we believe in Christ but doubt the resurrection.  But it is possible for us to experience (see) the risen Christ ourselves because we can have a relationship with Him today as we follow Him and worship Him.

So this Easter celebrate your faith.  Give thanks that Jesus is the Lord of the living and the dead.  Put your hope in Jesus for it is only through Him that we can be saved - for we are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2).  God bless you this Easter, and if you're in town come and worship with us at First Baptist Riverside.

Scenes Around the Cross

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, March 26, 2015 @ 7:46 PM

Sometimes by following the church calendar we overlook a few of the most important events in Jesus' life.  This weekend will be Palm Sunday and next weekend is Easter.  In between those two dates, some of the most important events for our salvation take place.  I love Palm Sunday and Jesus' declaration that he is Messiah and King.  And Easter Sunday is the proof that Jesus is who he said he was, the Son of God who has authority over life and death.

This Sunday, in worship, we'll focus on Jesus' crucifixion and my sermon is called "Scenes Around the Cross."  There is no forgiveness for our sins, no salvation, no hope of a relationship with God or eternal life without Jesus' death on the cross.  We need to understand why Jesus died and what he accomplished through his death if we want to understand our faith.

We'll take a close look at the scenes around the cross.  Some scenes will be harsh as we watch the hatred of Jesus' enemies who mocked him and ridiculed him as he died.  But if we look closely we will also see scenes of grace, of Jesus' love and mercy shinning through, scenes of hope and salvation.  If you want to have a better understanding of Jesus' death and what it means for your life and for your eternity, come and worship with us at First Baptist Riverside at 9:00 (Traditional Worship) and 10:45 a.m. (Contemporary Worship).  We'll also have a baptism service at the beginning of our Contemporary Service.

The Resurrection and the Life

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, March 19, 2015 @ 8:02 PM

This week we lost two dear members of our church family: Eleta Wild and Art Haywood.  Those who knew and loved them will surely miss them.  But we are comforted by our faith in Jesus Christ knowing that He is the "resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).  Just a few minutes after making that claim Jesus raised Lazarus who had been dead for four days.

God created us to be His children forever.  He didn't create us to die and be separated from Him.  He didn't make us to live for a short time and then grieve the loss of His relationship with us.  He created us to have eternal life.  But human sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) led to judgment, death and separation from God.  The rest of The Story in the Bible is about God's plan to redeem His people, forgive our sins, restore our relationship with Him and give us eternal life with Him in heaven. 

God sent His Son Jesus to be our redeemer, to teach us about God, to show us through His actions what God is like, and then to die as the perfect Son of God on the cross for all of our sins.  If we believe in Jesus and follow Him He will forgive our sins and give us life that lasts forever. 

Many people doubted who Jesus was and how He could save us so near the end of Jesus' ministry He received news that His dear friend Lazarus was dying.  Jesus went to Lazarus' family home, knowing that by the time He got their Lazarus would be dead.  Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus' death and burial.  His family and friends filled the house grieving.  Jesus said to Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life."  In other words, Jesus was saying, "I can do what no other man can do, I can raise the dead to life."  Certainly no one has raised a man who has been certifiably dead for four days.  The body would have already started to decompose by then.

But Jesus asked the family to take Him to the tomb of Lazarus.  Arriving there He called out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"  And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still wrapped in the burial clothes in which he had been laid to rest.  Jesus did that miracle so that we can know and be confident that death is not the end for us.  Jesus has the power to raise the dead.  When we put our faith in Jesus He promises to give us life that lasts forever and the death of our body is simply our transition from earth to heaven.

Jesus offers life to you if you are willing to put your faith and trust in Him.  He offers life that's full, complete and abundant here on earth (John 10:10) and eternal life with Him in heaven.  Let me offer you an invitation: Choose Jesus and choose life.    He gives you that choice today.

Are You a Kingdom Citizen?

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Friday, March 13, 2015 @ 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 Thursday, February 19, 2015 @ 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 Friday, February 13, 2015 @ 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 Thursday, February 5, 2015 @ 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 Thursday, January 29, 2015 @ 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.

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