"Valentine's Day for the Church"

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP4er @ 4:43 PM

I remember back in elementary school when everyone in the class would give and receive valentines. It was an expression of the love of friendship. Valentine’s Day should remind us that we have something very special in church. As Christian we are brothers and sisters in Christ and have spiritual and familial bonds of love with one another. Let’s be sure to express the love we have in the family of God at First Baptist Riverside. 

There are many people who are starving for the love of friendship.  Studies show that 10% of Americans say they don't have a single close friend - that's 32 million people who are lacking a close personal friend. Many others wish they had more friends they could count on.  One of the reasons we invite people to our church is for them to meet Jesus, the best friend they'll ever know.  Proverbs 18:24 says, "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."  In the church we will find friends with integrity and commitment who will be closer than a brother.

This Sunday the sermon from Acts 20 is called “Valentine’s Day for the Church.” In Acts 20 we see the outpouring of love the people in the church had for the Apostle Paul. From this passage we'll learn how to make new and lasting friendships and how to be a good friend to others.

On February 12th or some other day in February, tell the people in your life that you love them. Tell you family that you love them.  Tell your friends you love them.  Tell your neighbors you love them.  If you're in a church family, let the people you see know that you’re glad they’re part of your church family and God’s family.  I think this would be a Valentine’s Day tradition that would surely honor God.

The Big Game Strategy

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP6er @ 6:27 PM

This Sunday many of us will watch the Super Bowl.  I've been a football fan for over 50 years.  I can remember watching Super Bowl 2 when the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders.  Watching the Super Bowl has been a tradition for me ever since.  The thing that I've noticed over the years is that the team with the best game plan usually wins.  If the defense is prepared and ready for the plays the opposing team runs and the offense catches them off guard, they're going to win the game.  One of the reasons the Patriots are favored this year is because Bill Belichick has a reputation for designing an outstanding game plan against an opponent.

The Bible tells us God's game plan for winning in life.  It's a simple but effective game plan.  Believe in Jesus who died for your sins and rose again and he'll forgive your sins and give you eternal life (Acts 2:38-39).  Winning also means living a life of moral and ethical integrity - God says, "Be holy as I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16)  We are to make disciples, be Jesus' witnesses to the people we know, and be Christ's ambassadors to the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).  We are to be a blessing to others (James 2:14-19) and serve the Lord in the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).  And we're to tithe (Malachi 3:6-12, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15).  If we follow God's game plan, we'll win at life and earn the commendation of our Savior, "Well done, good and faithful servant..." (Matthew 25:21).

Equally important, the church needs to follow God's game plan if it's going to win.  It's said that 90% of churches in America are plateaued or declining.  I would suggest that many, if not most, of those churches are not following the coach's (God's) game plan.  They just keep running the same plays they've run for years, and they don't work anymore.  What is the game plan for the church?  We need to know who the owner is - the church is the body of Christ - he owns it (1 Corinthians 12).  It's not our church - it's his church.  The coach is the Holy Spirit, he guides, directs and empowers the church (Acts 1:4-8).  The goal of the church is to be Jesus witnesses to the world (Acts 1:8), every person we reach for Christ is a touchdown.  We also adhere to the Biblical principle of "justice" as we help the poor, sick, and grieving and resist the evil we see in the world.

I don't want to just do enough to sneak into heaven.  I want to win as a Christian and I want to be part of a winning team: the church.  I want to go into heaven ready to meet my Savior because I've given my life to serve him.  I want to say like Paul, who looked back on his life and said, "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)  Don't just play the game - win!

It's Always Too Soon to Give Up

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP8er @ 8:49 PM

Life is challenging and following Jesus can be difficult.  We may think about giving up.  I want to encourage you today - Don’t give up!  God can help you.  Our sermon title for Sunday is “It’s Always Too Soon To Give Up.”  No matter what your problems are, if something inside you is telling you to give up, God says, "It's too soon for you to give up."

Our Scripture text for Sunday is Acts 18:1-17.  It's the story of Paul's visit to Corinth when he established a church for the Corinthians.  After Paul preached in the synagogue for several weeks, opposition arose.  His enemies abused him.  The same scenario had recently played out in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.  Paul had to be frustrated and discouraged.  He was ready to give up.  But Paul didn't give up.

Why not give up?  Two important things happened to Paul. First, some of the people Paul had been preaching to came to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.  There's almost nothing more thrilling than to see someone you've witnessed to become a follower of Jesus.  The second thing happened - God spoke to Paul.  He told Paul not to be afraid and keep speaking about Jesus.  If Paul would remain faithful to the task he had been given, God would protect him from harm.  This was the divine assurance Paul needed to stay in Corinth and build a healthy church that would share the good news of Jesus throughout the whole region.

What God did for Paul to encourage him and keep him from giving up - God will do for you too.  God is our partner as we go through life and in the various ways we serve him.  So if you have anxieties, cares, worries, things that are keeping you far from God, know that God will act on your behalf.  He will encourage you to never give up and to keep on going.

If you need encouragement, if you're thinking about giving up, if you feel like life is too hard and your challenges are wearing you down, join us for worship and be encouraged.  Come to worship and hear God say, "It's Always Too Soon to Give Up."  We have Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.  Everyone is welcome.  First Baptist Riverside is located at 5500 Alessandro Boulevard.

Become a Troublemaker

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP6er @ 6:55 PM

My mother was a good Christian woman and didn't raise me to be a troublemaker.  I was taught in Sunday School to be a good boy and not cause trouble.  So imagine my surprise years later when I read the Bible and found out that God wants me to be a troublemaker!  You may have been raised by a godly mother and taught not to be a troublemaker.  If that's the case, it's time to reprogram your brain, because there are times and places where God wants you to cause lots of trouble.

This week in worship we'll continue our study of "ACTS: The Church Alive!"  In Acts 17:6 we read, "But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: 'These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here.'"  The enemies of the church are accusing Paul, Silas, Luke, Timothy, Jason and other believers of being troublemakers.  In fact, they were causing trouble all over the world. 

As followers of Jesus Christ you and I are called to be troublemakers all over the world.  However we need to redefine what it means to be a troublemaker.  If your idea of being a troublemaker means to hurt people, destroy property, sin and selfishly do whatever your heart desires - then listen to your mother and don't be a troublemaker.  But if your definition of being a troublemaker is to proclaim Christ to people everywhere, telling them that they need to change their lives and follow Jesus - that's what God has in mind.  If being a troublemaker means living out a radical commitment to Christ that reveals to sinners that the ways of the world are foolish and makes them feel guilty for their sinful ways and question their values - that kind of troublemaker honors God.

Paul and the early followers of Jesus were telling the people in Thessalonica that their idols were useless, they needed to give up their false gods and follow the Lord.  They were preaching the gospel and perceived to be a threat to those in power.  They were not quiet and compliant Christians who did what they were told. They were sold out doing the work God told them to do.  The same should be true of us today.  If we're Christians, we're called to live in a corrupt and evil world and not keep quiet and stay in our place.  We're call to be world-changers.  Instead of being compliant, we have a gospel that calls people to radical lifestyle of following the Lord.

I hope you'll choose to come worship with us this Sunday and learn what it means to "Become a Troublemaker" for Jesus.  We have a Traditional Worship time at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.

Listening to God

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP1er @ 1:06 PM

God promises, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart"  (Jeremiah 29:13).  God makes himself available to anyone who seeks to have a relationship with him.  Jesus said that seeking God is the key to everything we want in life.  "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).  When we seek God we will encounter him and he'll speak to us and reveal his plans for our lives.

This Sunday, as we continue to study "ACTS: The Church Alive!" in Acts 16 we'll see several examples of God speaking to his people.  In each situations they listened to God and did what he said.  God spoke to Timothy and he became Paul's partner in the gospel ministry.  God spoke to Paul and told him to go to Macedonia to help the people there, and Paul went, establishing some of the great churches in Macedonia and Greece.  God spoke to Luke, and he became Paul's partner in ministry and the author of the "Gospel According to Luke" and "The Book of Acts."  God spoke to Lydia and she and her household became followers of Jesus and in her home the church at Philippi met.  All of this speaking and action takes place in just the first 15 verses of Acts 16

The question for us isn't "Does God speaks?"  God doesn't change.  He continually speaks to his people.  The question is, "Are we listening?"  "Do we know how to listen to what God is saying to us?"  When people tell me that they don't hear from God, I don't think it's because God isn't speaking to them, it's because they're not listening.  So this Sunday in worship I'll use the example of the people whose stories are told in Acts 16 to show us how God speaks and what he says to his people. 

I hope you'll come worship with us this Sunday and learn how to listen to God.  When you hear him, don't ignore him.  If you do what he tells you to do, you will experience God's purpose and meaning for your life, like every person in Acts 16 did.  We have traditional worship at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.  If you can't make it to worship, then go to the online sermons on our website next week and listen and learn how to hear what God is saying to you.

Law vs. Grace

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP3er @ 3:54 PM

There has been a constant tension between law and grace among God's people since the time of Jesus.  The church has to decide: are we saved by obeying the Law or are we saved by grace?  The Law points out our failure and makes us realize that we can never please God ourselves.  Grace is what Jesus offers to us because he died on the cross for our sins to save us.

The Christians faith is based on grace.  Paul told the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)   We have a God who loves us so much that he has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves - pay our debt of sin.

Unfortunately, at times, the church delivers a mixed message.  We communicate that for someone to be accepted in our fellowship requires a mix of grace and law.  Every church has it's own culture and we expect people to obey our rules if they want to fit in.  We should never make rules that exclude anyone  that Jesus died to save.  Like God, we are to offer grace to those who come to our church who are not familiar with our rules or traditions.

This week in worship we'll resume our study of "ACTS: The Church Alive!" in Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem.  The leaders of the church had to decide what was required for people to be saved and accepted into the community of believers.  Must someone become a Jew (and follow the Jewish law) before they can become a Christian?  Or do Jews and Gentiles have equal access to grace through faith in Christ?  Fortunately the Council of Jerusalem came down on the side of grace.  This Sunday learn how you can receive grace and no longer be judged under the law when you believe in Jesus.  Traditional Worship is at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship is at 10:45 a.m.

HAPPY 2017

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP3er @ 3:26 PM

This Sunday marks the beginning of a New Year.  We enter every New Year with a sense of anticipation of what the year will bring.  The optimist looks at the New Year hoping that it will be a good year.  The pessimist worries about the bad things they fear will happen.  What happens in 2017 is not fate.  We have a great deal of control over what happens in 2017.

Therefore, we need to decide what we want to happen in 2017.  It's important to set goals and to make New Year resolutions with a commitment to keeping them beyond the first few weeks of the New Year.  We can make personal resolutions to get into shape, lose some weight, and live healthier in 2017.  We might set goals to get out of debt and gain control of our finances.  Spiritually we might want to grow in our faith, which can be accomplished by being committed to our church, spending time in God's Word, prayer and service.

This Sunday we'll learn about how 2017 can be the beginning of something new and a fresh start for each of us.  Come to worship with a positive attitude of what 2017 can be for you - with God's help.  On New Year's Day we will have traditional worship at 9:00 a.m. and contemporary worship at 10:45 a.m.  See you there!

Christ the Savior is Born!

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP8er @ 8:04 PM

Christmas is an amazing season when we realize how much God loves us.  God sent his Son Jesus to be born to Mary and Joseph in the little town of Bethlehem, with shepherds as witnesses and Magi from Persia to worship him.  Jesus came to earth to reveal God to us in his every action and in every word he spoke.  Jesus later died on a cross, paying the debt of sin we owe, so we can be saved and have eternal life with God.  Christmas is the time for all of us to remember how magnificent and wonderful our God is.

This year Christmas falls on Sunday.  As a result, at First Baptist Riverside we'll have two identical worship services, one on Christmas Eve (Saturday) at 7:00 p.m. and the other on Christmas Sunday at 9:00 a.m.  We hope you'll include worshiping the Savior whose birth we celebrate in your Christmas plans.  Invite your family members and friends to come along for a truly memorable Christmas.

On both Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday I'll tell the Christmas story and explain the meaning and significance of Jesus' birth from the perspective of the Innkeeper of Bethlehem.  I've found that one of the best ways for me to understand Bible stories is to think of myself as one of the characters in the story and imagine what that person must have thought and experienced as the events happened.  I hope you'll join us for worship and experience the Christmas story this year in a fresh and creative way. 

My prayer for each of you this Christmas is that you will experience the miracle of Jesus' birth in a way that stokes your faith and deepens your commitment to Christ.  Have a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with all of God's blessings!

Miracles!

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP3er @ 3:02 PM

Our God does miracles.  Last Sunday we celebrated the miracle that all of our residents at Mount Rubidoux Manor escaped the fire without loss of life or significant injuries.  Experienced firemen who saw the extent of the fire damage were amazed that no one was killed.  God is good!  This Sunday (12/18) we'll meet Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  God performed a miracle for Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were childless and beyond childbearing years, and yet Elizabeth conceived and had a son.  God is good!

Also in our worship service this Sunday we'll hear a testimony about an amazing answer to prayer.  This fall Ryan Rodriguez, a fourth grader in our church family, was hospitalized at the Loma Linda Children's Hospital ICU in critical condition with meningitis.  This is a disease that can kill children or leave them with long-term disabilities.  Through the prayers of family, friends and church, Ryan was healed.  He is back to school and playing football with his friends.  Ryan's grandparents will give a testimony you won't want to miss.

In worship on Sunday we will have a prayer for the sick.  There may be some families visiting in worship who had children in the ICU when Ryan was there.  We have others in our church family who have been ill, struggling with diseases like cancer and heart disease, and some who are dealing with other disabilities.  We know God has the power to heal the sick by his mighty power or by using the skills of medical professionals he has gifted to cure disease.  God answers prayer according to his will, sometimes he chooses to not provide the healing.  At times we have to live with our illness or it's time for us to go home and be with Jesus.  If that's the case, when we pray, God gives us the strength to face our problems and the hope and comfort we need to get through any situation.  My hope is that many people will be encouraged because of the prayers of the church for their needs.

I want to invite you to come to worship with us this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. or 10:45 a.m.  I believe God wants to encourage you physically, emotionally and spiritually as we worship in his presence.

FIRE!

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP3er @ 3:55 PM

One of the great things our church did nearly 50 years ago was build Mount Rubidoux Manor, an affordable housing complex with 188 apartments for seniors in downtown Riverside.  We work in conjunction with HUD that subsidizes the rent for low income seniors so they can have a safe and affordable place to live.  Jesus tells us that as his followers we have a responsibility to care for the poor, the weak and the widow - and Mount Rubidoux Manor serves all those groups.  Our congregation serves the residents of the Manor in order to show them the love of Christ and be Jesus' witnesses to them.

So it was with great concern that I woke up this morning to news that Mount Rubidoux Manor was on fire.  I went to the Manor to discover that the 10th floor is burned and a total loss, and in addition there is some water and smoke damage to adjacent floors.  However, I praise God, there was no loss of life or serious injuries.  As bad as the fire was, it's a miracle that all the residents were rescued and evacuated without casualties.  The Riverside Fire Department and Police Department did an amazing job evacuating residents and putting out the fire.  The American Red Cross was on the scene to provide blankets and food to Manor residents at Dale Center.  Our Administrator, Don King and his wife Torrie, and the rest of the Mount Rubidoux Manor staff were at the Manor to care for the residents, to find lodging for displaced residents, and to help get the rest of the residents back into their apartments.

Please pray for the residents of Mount Rubidoux Manor in the days ahead.  Pray for those whose apartments and possessions were damaged or destroyed by the fire.  Pray for the staff as they serve the residents.  Pray for the future of Mount Rubidoux as plans were already underway prior to this fire for the remodel and renovation of the facility.

Our theme for worship this Sunday is "Jesus Never Said It Would Be Easy."  It's not easy to live the Christian life faithfully and serve the Lord.  We have an adversary in Satan, who seeks to oppose us and destroy the work we do.  Evil is present in our world and bad things happen all the time, sometimes they happen to us when we try serve the Lord.  There are those who hate our God and will oppose us and even persecute us at every turn.  The fire at the manor reminds us that it's not easy to serve God and do good, but we don't give up.  We keep on doing the Lord's work knowing that he will prevail.  This Sunday in worship we'll see in the story of Jesus' birth and in our study of "ACTS: The Church Alive!" that it's not easy to do what God asks us to do, but we do it anyway because its the right thing to do.

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