HAPPY 2017

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Wednesday, December 28, 2016 @ 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 Thursday, December 22, 2016 @ 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!


Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, December 15, 2016 @ 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.


Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, December 8, 2016 @ 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.

Follow the Holy Spirit

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, December 1, 2016 @ 4:27 PM

We have an amazing God!  Our God is one God in three persons who exist together in total unity.  God the Father reigns as CEO (Chief Executive Officer) in heaven.  Jesus Christ the Son came to earth and paid the debt of sin we owe, on our behalf, on the cross, so that he can forgive all our sins and save us.  The Holy Spirit is the presence of God sent to lead the church and lead in the lives of every believer after the risen Christ ascended into heaven. 

If the Spirit is sent to lead the church and to lead in our lives, the question is, "Are we following him?"  The Holy Spirit doesn't force himself on us.  If we refuse to listen to his leading and follow him, then he'll back off and let us go our own way.  We don't have to follow the Spirit long before we realize that our lives are better with him leading than when we are in charge.

As we continue our study of "ACTS: The Church Alive!" this Sunday, we come to Acts 13 and the Holy Spirit tells the church something that must have been quite surprising to them.  At this time Barnabas and Saul are the beloved pastors of the church in Antioch.  In Acts 13:2 the Spirit says, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."  The Spirit called Barnabas and Saul to leave the comfort zone of a healthy, growing and peaceful church in Antioch to become missionaries and risk their lives taking the gospel into Asia Minor and Europe beyond.  Barnabas and Saul heard the call and agreed to follow the Spirit.  Now the Spirit is telling the church to send them and support them in their ministry.  As we will see, the church does exactly what the Spirit tells them to do.

The questions I'll seek to answer on Sunday is, "How do we hear what the Spirit is saying?" and "When the Spirit speaks, do we follow him?"  Those questions apply to us as individuals.  The Holy Spirit speaks to each of us.  Are we living the way the Spirit wants us to live?  Are we doing what the Spirit wants us to do?  If the Spirit calls us to serve him in some way, will we serve him?  If we continually tell the Spirit "No" and do what we want to do, we will quench the Spirit, we will pour cold water over the embers of the Spirit in our lives.  One of the things the Spirit tells every believer is that they need to be part of a church where they can worship, grow spiritually and serve God.  Are you following the Spirit into active involvement in the life of the church?

These same questions apply to the church.  Are we listening to what the Spirit says to our church?  When he speaks do we listen and do what he tells us to do?  When we follow the Spirit's leading, God will bless the church.  If we refuse to listen to the Spirit then the Holy Spirit will back off and we will lose our spiritual fervor and vibrancy.  At First Baptist Riverside, we want to be a church that is listening to the Spirit and following him.  Let us be obedient to follow the Spirit like the church in Antioch did so long ago.

What If We Pray - And Believe!

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Monday, November 21, 2016 @ 10:23 AM

The Bible says there is awesome power when we pray because God hears our prayers and answers them.  But too often we pray doubting anything will be different because we prayed.  Our doubts keep us from praying as often as we should about the important things that are going on every day in our lives.  Churches are often guilty of the same thing.  We make plans and launch ministry initiatives without coming together as a congregation and praying as we should. 

This Sunday we'll continue our study of "ACTS: The Church Alive!" as we study Acts 12.  James, the brother of John, one of the key leaders of the church has been killed by King Herod.  Now Peter is arrested.  The believers in Jerusalem come together to pray for Peter, but they pray hoping God might help him, but not really believing that God will work a miracle to save him.  Well, God works a miracle and releases Peter, leading to a hilarious scene at the prayer meeting when Peter shows up.

God acts and does amazing things when his people pray.  Jesus said that if we pray and believe we can command the mountain to move, and it will.  I've never prayed for a mountain to move.  I believe God put the mountains where he wants them to be.  But the point Jesus is making is that if we pray, believing God has the power to do what we ask, amazing things will happen.

I want to call the people of First Baptist Riverside to pray mountain-moving prayers.  Our congregation has a 20/20 vision that is at it's very core about making First Baptist Riverside a biblically functioning church.  We want our church to grow because Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, it's supposed to grow.  We want to be a healthy church with healthy, growing believers and healthy relationships.  We want to be missional and serve God in our community.  We want to be an enduring church.  First Baptist Riverside has been around as long as the City of Riverside has been in existence.  We want our church to be a witness for Jesus until he comes back.  I strongly believe that if the vision God has given us is to become a reality by the end of the year 2020, it will because we are praying, and believing that God will do for us what we ask.

As Christians we have the ability to pray mountain-moving prayers for our own lives and needs and for our church.  This Sunday, let's gather as the church and learn from God's word how to pray mountain moving prayers. 

A Vision that Changed the World

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Thursday, November 17, 2016 @ 10:16 AM

In the Old Testament we're told that God chose Israel to be his special people.  They were to obey God and faithfully serve him, and in turn God would bless Israel.  Israel would then be a witness to the world and people of all nations would come to Israel to worship God.  But Israel was not obedient and had not been faithful.  Jesus came to earth and died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin.  People who put their faith  in Jesus would now become his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

As we follow the story of "ACTS: The Church Alive!" the church in Jerusalem has grown and spread to Judea and Samaria.  But the growth of the church hasn't crossed the boundary of appealing directly to Gentiles and accepting Gentiles as equal partners in the church.  In the first century the walls of division between Jews and Gentiles were high and strong.  It was going to require something amazing for Jewish Christians to welcome Gentiles in - and something amazing is exactly what God had in mind.

God knew a high profile leader of the church would have to be the first to welcome Gentiles.  He chose Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus would build his church.  But Peter had the same prejudices against Gentiles any Jew had.  So to break down the walls God gave Peter a vision - a vision that changed the world (see Acts 10).  It was a vision in which God made clear to Peter that the cultural and religious differences between Jews and Gentiles no longer matter.  The vision convinced Peter to accept the invitation to go to Cornelius' home, where many Gentiles believed in Jesus and were saved.  Peter then went back to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem to tell them what God had done.

Jesus calls all of us to be world-changers.  He wants to give us a vision for how we can be witnesses to the people in our world: our family, friends, neighbors, and the people we meet at work, school or in the community.  Everyone who experiences the love of God from us, each person who hears us tell about our experience with Jesus, when someone puts their trust in Christ because of our witness, we've changed the world.  If you are a follower of Jesus you have been given a high calling.  You are Christ's ambassador.  When you represent Jesus you are making a difference in the world and in people's lives.

In this Sunday's sermon I'll portray Peter as he seeks to understand the vision God has given him and accepts the invitation to go to Cornelius' house.  We'll discover that God has a vision for us and an invitation to be his witnesses to others - and in the process we can change the world.  I hope you'll come worship with us and find out more about "A Vision that Changed the World" in Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. or in Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 @ 4:09 PM

When God speaks, do you hear him?  I guarantee God is speaking to you.  There are important things he wants you to know.  If you're not hearing from God, it's not because he isn't speaking.  It's more likely that you haven't tuned your ear to what he is saying.  It's like a radio.  There are many different stations.  One station may have an important message you need to hear, but if you're not tuned to that station you'll miss the message.  God is speaking to you, but it may be you're tuned into the wrong station.

This Sunday, as we continue our study of "ACTS: The Church Alive!" we come to the story in Acts 9 of Saul's conversion.  I think God tried to speak to Saul in various ways to tell him to quit persecuting the church and to follow Jesus, but Saul didn't hear him.  God finally had to knock Saul off if his high horse and blind him with a brilliant light to get his attention.  When God wants to communicate his truth to you he may not go to such extremes to get your attention.

On Sunday we'll learn how we can tune in to the practical, real life truth that God is trying to communicate to us.  God wants to tell us about his love and our need to be forgiven and saved, a salvation he's freely given through Jesus Christ his Son.  The God who created you wants to tell you what you were created for and the plans he has for your life.  God wants to give direction for your life to make it abundant and full.  He wants to give you words of comfort, assurance and encouragement when you need to hear them the most.

Do you hear what I hear?  Come worship with us this Sunday in Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. or in Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m. and listen to God's word for your life.

Remembering Jesus

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Friday, November 4, 2016 @ 2:19 PM

Our church has had a long traditional of celebrating the Lord's Supper on the first Sunday of every month.  This is a very healthy practice.  We tend to have short memories (I know I do!).  The Lord's Supper (or Communion) reminds us how much Jesus loves us, that he willingly died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  It reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). 

We are not saved by doing good works or by living a good life.  So often at funerals I hear people say, "So and so (the deceased) was a good person, so I know he/she is in heaven."  No, throughout his/her life he/she was a sinner who has no place with a holy God unless his/her sins have been forgiven by believing in Jesus.  The best known verse of the Bible makes it clear, "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 made clear the necessity of having a relationship with him when he described himself in John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." 

Other religions are not just other paths that lead to God.  The Bible makes clear that other religions are idolatry that dishonor the one true God.  The necessity of following Jesus as "the way" is why it is so important for us to be Jesus' witnesses (Acts 1:8) and ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) to people everywhere so they will have the information they need to make a reasonable decision to believe in Jesus.

Celebrating the Lord's Supper reminds us that Jesus is our hope and the hope of the world.  Our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in our lives and should be treated as such.  Jesus takes priority over everything else.  Jesus said in Mark 8:34, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."  Each and every day we get up in the morning with a commitment to follow Jesus and serve him, sacrificially if necessary.  Without the monthly reminder of the Lord's Supper we might forget the daily commitment we have to live for Jesus.

I hope you'll come worship with us at First Baptist Riverside this Sunday and celebrate the Lord's Supper.  Remember the place your relationship with Jesus has in your life.  Remember that you owe Jesus your life and the hope of eternity is in him.  Recommit your life to following Jesus every day.  He'll be present with you, forgive you, save you all along the way when you remember him!

God Has A Plan

Posted by Joseph Lutz on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 @ 5:59 PM

God has a plan - that's the message we find in Stephen's sermon in Acts 7.  God's plan is universal and affects all his creation.  God's  has a plan for our world, for the church and for each of our lives.  God's plan is revealed in the lives and experiences of Old Testament heroes like Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  The full revelation of God's plan has come through God's Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus fulfills God's plan of salvation and he's the hope of the world.

The thing that amazes me is, while I consider myself totally insignificant in the context of the world, as a follower of Jesus Christ, God aligns his plan for my life with what he wants to do in the world.  There are things God is doing today that affect my life and things God is counting on me to do that will further his plan for other's lives, for my church and that will ultimately will affect his universal plan.  I get to play a role in what God wants to do in the world.  Amazing!

This Sunday we'll discover in Stephen's sermon what God's plan is and how we, as his people, fit into his plan.  God's plan is a plan of salvation that involves faith and grace and obedience.  God's plan involves us accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and our Lord.  I hope you'll come worship with us and learn more about God's plan for your life.  We have Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. and Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.  If you have questions about what faith in Jesus is or if you're looking for a safe place to learn more about Jesus, you're welcome here at First Baptist Riverside.

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