From Darkness to Light

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP12er @ 12:35 PM

The theme of this year's Easter Sunrise service on Mount Rubidoux is "From Darkness to Light."  That is such a rich theme in the Scriptures.  Throughout the Bible darkness is a symbol of sin and evil while God is always depicted as light.  In John 1 Jesus is described as the light that has come into the world to shine in the darkness.  In John 8:12 Jesus says, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

During Jesus' crucifixion, at about noon, we're told that darkness came over the whole land.  It was an evil day, the Son of God was dying for the sins of the world.  But three days latter, on Easter Sunday, at sunrise, at the first light, Jesus rose from the dead.  The world went from darkness to light.

For Jesus' followers, the time after his death was a dark time.  They'd lost their Lord, their friend and their leader.  They hid behind locked doors in the Upper Room grieving.  Early Sunday morning Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus body, a ritual for an honorable burial.  But when they came around the corner to the tomb they saw the guards had run away, the stone had been rolled away, and Jesus is alive.  The darkness had turned to light.

The disciples heard the report of the women but didn't know what to make of it.  They couldn't believe he had risen.  But suddenly in their midst there was another man.  He held out his hands and they saw the nail marks and he said, "Peace be with you."  They knew Jesus is alive.  The darkness had turned into light.

But one of the disciples, Thomas, was not with the others when Jesus visited them.  He refused to believe Jesus had risen.  After all, how many dead people do you know who rose from the grave three days after their death?  He would not believe unless he touched the scars left from the crucifixion in Jesus' hands and side.  The next Sunday, the disciples and Thomas were still behind locked doors in the Upper Room and again, suddenly, another man was in their midst.  He invited Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side.  Jesus is alive.  Thomas response, "My Lord and my God!"

There may be darkness in your life due to sin, discouragement, doubt, fear of death or judgment.  Put your faith in Jesus and believe that he is alive.  The darkness will turn to light when you invite Jesus into your life and know that he is your God.  He'll forgive your sins and save you and give you life that lasts forever.  This Easter let your life move from darkness to light.

God Uses Those Who Are Willing to Give

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP3er @ 3:45 PM

The Bible says "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).  We have a group from our church who have given this week to go to "Gleanings For the Hungry" to package food being shipped to feed hungry people all around the world.  Because of their work thousands of children who are hungry and people who are malnourished will receive a good meal.  I think that honors Christ who blessed his followers by saying, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat" ( Matt. 25:35).

For years our church has come alongside our Hispanic sister church, Iglesia Bautista Nuevo Nacimiento, to help them improve their church facility.  We were never able to match our dreams with the finances that were available, until God raised up a donor who saw the dream and committed a million dollars to fund the project.  God made a huge difference in his kingdom through a couple who were willing to give of their resources.

In the week ahead we will celebrate the one who gave the most - his name is Jesus Christ.  He is the one and only Son of God.  He left everything that was his as King in heaven and came to earth in a human body so that we might see God and hear his words.  Jesus came to earth with the end in mind, knowing that he would die on a cross to pay the penalty we owe for our sins and forgive us and save us and give us eternal life.  There is no other sacrifice needed other than the one Jesus gave, there is no other way of salvation than through faith in Jesus Christ.  Our hope of salvation came through this one who was willing to give so much.

What do you have to give for the kingdom of God?  Your knee-jerk reaction may be to say, "I don't have much."  But that's not true.  You have time to give to God and others.  You have talents and abilities that many ministries in God's kingdom could use.  You have financial resources that you could give to support the ministries of a church or a missionary who is taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Everyone has something they can give to God.  I would challenge you during Holy Week to think about what you can give as you celebrate the ultimate gift when Jesus Christ gave his life to save you.

Becoming Missional People

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP7er @ 7:48 PM

If we're not careful we may begin to think that our Christian faith is a hobby.  We tell ourselves that if we give God an hour or two on Sundays when we don't have something else planned, he'll be happy.  But if we read the Bible seriously we know God is never a hobby.  God's expectation for us is to have a 24/7 faith.  We are always God's people.  We're always on call to serve him.  We are always God's ambassadors everywhere we go to whatever group of people we happen to be with at that moment.  We call this a "missional" lifestyle - we're always on mission for Jesus.

Jesus taught us as much in his "Parable of the Sheep and the Goats" (Matthew 25:31-46), the last parable Jesus told his followers, not long before he died on the cross.  It's a parable about judgment.  The "sheep" in Jesus' parable are those who live by kingdom values and do kingdom work.  They're saved, not because of the work they do, but because their service to God 24/7 is evidence of their faith and that their lives have been changed by having a relationship with Jesus. The "goats" are condemned because they do not live by kingdom values and are not doing kingdom work.  The way they live their lives shows that they have no faith and that no transformation has taken place in their lives.

Jesus challenges us to take a look at our lives to see which group we would be in if we faced God's judgment today.  Are we "sheep" or "goats?"  Are we living for Christ every day?  Are we carrying out the mission Jesus began when he was on earth?  Are our hearts being broken by the needs of "the least of these" brothers and sisters of Christ?  Our service to Christ that evidences our faith is not limited to helping the needy.  Are we a witness to unbelieving family and friends?  Are we serving Christ in the church or in the community?  Are we ready to respond to God's call and go where he wants us to go and do what he wants us to do?

This Sunday in worship we'll look at Jesus' "Parable of the Sheep and the Goats" and reflect on what it means to be a missional people whose lives show that we have faith in Jesus.  Come worship with us at Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. or Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.

Remember Me

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP2er @ 2:43 PM

This Sunday in worship we'll continue our study of "JESUS: God and Man" by looking at some of the events of the last week of Jesus' life.  One of the key events is Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples the night before he died.  We can't imagine how difficult that night must have been for Jesus and the disciples.  The disciples left everything behind to follow Jesus and now they finally realize that he's serious about being betrayed, arrested, convicted and crucified in the next 24 hours. 

But before Jesus died he ate the Passover meal with his disciples.  He gave the bread and cup from the Passover meal a new meaning.  The bread would now remind Jesus' followers of how his body broken for us.  The cup of wine reminds us of the blood Jesus shed on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins.  He told his followers that as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we are to remember him.  For Jews, the bread and cup were served at every meal.  They were to remember Jesus daily.

Today we remember Jesus daily when we say grace before our meals.  At First Baptist Riverside we remember Jesus every week in worship, but on the first Sunday of the month we also remember him by celebrating the Lord's Supper in our worship services.  Because our lives are so busy and it's easy to be distracted from what matters most, Jesus knew that we should set aside a time and a particular activity to remind us of the core of our faith - his death, burial and resurrection.  This Sunday we'll build our entire worship experience around the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

I'd encourage you in the days ahead to think about what it means for you to obey Jesus' command, "Remember Me."  How often do you remember Jesus?  What do you do to remember Jesus?  How often do you gather with the body of Christ (the church) to remember Jesus by eating the Lord's Supper?  How does remembering Jesus enrich your life and deepen your relationship with Jesus?  What Jesus asks of all of us is, "Remember Me."

Faulty Assumptions

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP8er @ 8:35 PM

One of the reasons we're not always as happy or satisfied with our lives as we'd like is because we're operating on the basis of faulty assumptions.  For example, you may assume that if you have a lot of money you'll be happy.  But money and happiness don't always go together.  If you're not married, you might assume that if you found the perfect partner to go through life with, everything would be wonderful.  But the assumption that there is a perfect person for you may not be true.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer whose fields had a bumper crop (Luke 12:13-21).  He decided to build new barns to store the excess and he'd have enough wealth to last him many years.  He would finally be able to take life easy and eat, drink and be merry.  But it didn't turn out that way.  That very night he died and was not able to enjoy any of the things he had laid up for himself.

The rich farmer had some faulty assumptions.  The first faulty assumption was about life itself.  He thought there were guarantees in life.  He thought he'd live for many years to enjoy the fruit of his labor.  The reality is that none of us know how long we will live.  He also had a faulty assumption about money.  He thought money would make him happy.  However all you have to do is look around and you'll find a lot of people with a lot of money who are miserable.  You think if you won the lottery you'd be different, but probably not. 

The farmer also had a faulty assumption about the purpose of life.  He thought everything he had was for him to use as he saw fit.  He was selfish and hoarded it for himself.  The truth is that when God blesses us with plenty, God wants us to be a good steward of those resources and share them with others who have needs.  The farmer's faulty assumption was that his life was for him to do as he pleased, but God expects us to give our lives to him and that we will live under his leadership.

I'd encourage you to take a look to see if your life is everything you want it to be.  If it's not, it may be because you're living with some faulty assumptions about money, or the purpose of your life, or about life itself.  This Sunday's sermon is called "Faulty Assumptions" and you can worship with us at First Baptist Riverside at 9:00 a.m. (Traditional Worship) or 10:45 a.m. (Contemporary Worship).

Valentine's Day - Celebrate Love

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OA11er @ 11:00 AM

For centuries Valentine's Day has been a time for people to celebrate love and relationships.  School children learn to give valentines to their classmates.  Valentine's Day is an important date for couples to express their love to one another.  Valentine's Day is a great opportunity to tell our friends and family members that we love them.

This year Valentine's Day falls on Sunday, which makes it the perfect time for us to affirm our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ as we worship together.  In John 15:12 Jesus teaches us to "love one another as I have loved you."  Jesus' love is described in the original Greek of the New Testament with the word "agape."  Agape love is not a feeling.  We don't "fall in agape."  Agape is a choice to love another person.  We were sinners far from God - there was nothing about us that should make Jesus love us.  Jesus chose to love us, and because he loves us he died to forgive our sins, save us, and give us eternal life.

In our church we practice "agape" love.  Our congregation is diverse - people of different races and cultures, people of all ages, wealthy and poor, highly educated and those with little education.  But we choose to love one another because Jesus first loved us.  Because of love we pray for one another, serve one another, help each other out in times of need, we build each other up, encourage one another, and help each other grow in our faith.  The church is qualitatively different than any organization on earth because of the love we have for one another.

The greatest love is God's love for us.  This Sunday in worship we'll study Jesus' "Parable of the Prodigal Son."  God is the Father who loves his children.  When the younger son rebels and demands his inheritance and then moves away to spend it on wild living, the Father never quits loving his son and readily forgives him and accepts him when he comes back home.  The Father loves the older son when his heart is hard and shows resentment toward his brother.  God loves us.

God's love is to be celebrated.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).  We are Jesus' friends.  He loves us.  This Valentine's Day, celebrate God's love for you.

You've Got A Friend

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP3er @ 3:37 PM

James Taylor's hit song "You've Got a Friend" has been immensely popular over the years because everyone wants to have one or more good friends in their lives.  Many people don't have friends they can count on.  Surveys show that nearly half of all people say they feel lonely most of the time.  One in ten say they don't have any close friends.  That means 30,000 people in the city of Riverside and 250,000 people in the Inland Empire don't have a friend.  That's really sad.

Those of us who believe in Jesus have a friend for eternity.  In John 15 Jesus says that he's our friend.  In fact he says in verse 13, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."  I'm thankful that Jesus is my friend.  I'm glad Jesus laid down his life on the cross of Calvary to save me from my sins.  But I still need human beings in flesh and blood to be my friends as well.  The church is a great place to make friends because we have a common faith, common values, and a common mission we pursue.

An important part of our mission as followers of Jesus is to a friend to people we know who do not know or are not following Jesus.  We all know people who need a friend.  We know how to be a good friend because our faith prepares us for this task.  We know how to love our neighbors as ourselves and how to have compassion and we're willing to serve others.  As Jesus' witnesses and ambassadors in the world, we practice friendship evangelism because people don't care what we know about Christ until they know how much we care.

This Sunday in worship we're going to look at a story from Jesus' life about his close personal friendship with Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  We don't know how they met or how they became such good friends.  But in a crisis moment Lazarus got sick and died so Jesus came in friendship and from this story we learn how to be a good friend to others.  Let us be generous with our friendship and invest in the lives of others so that we can be a witness for Jesus to those who need him.  Yes, being a friend takes a lot of work.  But having friends is a blessing and helping those friends along the journey of faith is one of the most rewarding endeavors of life.

Come worship with us at First Baptist Riverside this Sunday and find out how you can become "A True Friend" to others and serve Christ in the process.  Traditional worship happens at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary worship is at 10:45 a.m.


Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP8er @ 8:12 PM

Sometimes in their preaching pastors are tempted to sanitize the things Jesus said.  We want Jesus to bring a message of grace, hope and love.  While Jesus taught all those things, sometimes Jesus had to confront people who were doing things that were an affront to God.  That happens in Matthew 23.  Jesus warns against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  Their manmade rules and legalism had become barriers to those who might otherwise be attracted to a relationship with God.

Today, we dare not create obstacles for those who might come to follow Jesus.  We need to ask ourselves if we are creating rules or promoting theologies that make us feel better but drive others away from God.  When I was young, the church I was attending had a pastor who was very legalistic.  It was the 1960's and this pastor thought rock music and anything young people wanted to do was of the devil and every Sunday we sat through critical and judgmental sermons.  I know people who left the church and never returned to church or to God.

So if we start adding to the gospel, Jesus says "Whoa!"  "Stop!"  If we criticize people for the music they like, that's cultural snobbery that can turn people away from God.  If we make cruel remarks or judge someone because he or she has tattoos or wears cloths we wouldn't wear, those are manmade values that exclude others from the kingdom of heaven.  If we tell people that to be a Christian they have to vote for a particular candidate or support a particular political party, then we're putting expectations on them that God does not.  We need to think before we act or say things that will drive others away from Christ.

Instead we need to create a culture in our church that says that everyone is welcome to come as they are to learn more about Christ.  We're honest and tell people that we're a church with no perfect people, so any sinner can come and expect to be treated with compassion and love.  We're not offended by people who come to our church who haven't learned how to act like a Christian yet, we're happy to love them and mentor them.

Whenever we're tempted to make manmade rules that exclude people who are not like us from being accepted into the church, anytime we're unloving to others who want to come learn more about Jesus, Jesus says, "Whoa!"  "Stop!"  "You represent me to others who are seeking me.  Show them the same love I showed you when you first decided to follow me."

How to Do What Jesus Did

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP7er @ 7:22 PM

This Sunday as we continue our study of "JESUS: God and Man" we'll learn about the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  It's a wonderful story.  Jesus was passing through Jericho where  Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector.  The people hated him for collecting taxes for the Romans, so it was dangerous for him to mix with the crowd.  He was also a short man, so he couldn't see over the top of the crowd that followed Jesus.  Therefore to see and hear Jesus, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree on the route Jesus would take through town.

No one noticed Zacchaeus in the tree - except Jesus.  He saw Zacchaeus.  He knew who Zacchaeus was.  Because of his profession, Zacchaeus was probably the richest and loneliest man in town.  So Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for lunch.  We aren't told what happened over lunch, but it changed Zacchaeus' life.  He announced he would give half of his wealth to the poor and that if he had cheated anyone he would pay back four times the amount.  Jesus proclaims that salvation has come upon Zacchaeus house (his oikos) because "the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

Jesus knew that if we want to share the message of salvation, it must be done in the context of relationships.  Today, if we want to be heard by unbelievers like Zacchaeus, then we may have to take them to lunch or invite them over to our house for dinner.  We have to get to know people and earn the right to be heard.  So the question is, how do we develop relationships with the people  like Zacchaeus who live in our neighborhood, attend our schools, work with us or are involved in the same community activities we are?

In today's culture going door to door or preaching on street corners will not draw many people to Jesus.  We have to develop relationships.  That's why we're challenging people in our church to host a Super Bowl party at their home and invite some friends from church and some unchurched friends.  There's nothing spiritual about a football game.  It's just a time to hang out and have a good time together.  The party has to be followed up with other intentional activities to develop these relationships.  As we get to know people better it becomes perfectly natural to tell our new friends about our faith in Christ and why he is important to us.  We may be able to serve our new friend if they're going through some type of crisis or hardship.  We do it all in the hope of using the influence of friendship to guide people into a relationship with Jesus.

What Jesus did to reach Zacchaeus 2000 years ago is exactly what he calls us to do today as we seek to be his witnesses right here where we live.

Praying Like Jesus

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP5er @ 5:49 PM

Jesus is God's Son.  He had a great relationship with his Father in heaven.  Jesus prayed and talked to the Father daily, with many of those prayers recorded in the gospels.  When Jesus prayed he received guidance from God, strength for the work he had to do, and answers to prayers for miracles and provision for the things Jesus needed.  Jesus found great peace and comfort in the critical times of his life because of his conversations with God.

The disciples wanted to know how to pray like Jesus, so Jesus taught them the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).  This prayer should actually be called the "disciple's prayer," because Jesus gave it to be an outline that his disciples could follow when they prayed.

As a follower of Jesus I need to pray every day like Jesus did.  I need to pray for guidance, wisdom and strength to serve God.  I need to bring to God a host of other concerns for my health, for my family, for provision for the things I need to survive, for peace and joy in my relationship with him.  I want to pray like Jesus and have meaningful and productive conversations with God, not only to tell God what I want, but to listen to what God has to say to me about what he wants for my life.  Communication is essential for every relationship and prayer is how I communicate with God.

I hope you have a wonderful prayer life, spending time with God every day in ways that will enrich your life and deepen your relationship with him.  If you find that your times spent in prayer are something less than that, then let Jesus teach you how to pray.  When you talk to God follow the outline Jesus laid out in the Lord's Prayer.

This Sunday I'm going to continue our study of "JESUS: God and Man" by teaching about the Lord's Prayer.  I'll talk about the outline of Jesus' prayer and how it applies to the prayers we pray today.  I think you'll find that praying like Jesus will enrich your life and your faith.  Come worship with us at First Baptist Riverside at Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.

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