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.

Whoa!

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.

Laws That Are Still On the Books

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP2er @ 2:31 PM

In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, he makes it clear that the Ten Commandments and God's moral law in the Old Testament are still to be obeyed by believers.  Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  All Scripture is inspired by God, therefore what God instructs us to do - we should do it.  So does that mean that we should legalistically obey the law like the Pharisees?  No, Jesus says that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).

How can our righteousness surpass the Pharisees?  They were the most devout law-obeyers of all time.  However, while the Pharisees practiced the law, they were not perfect.  They still sinned.  On the other hand, we who believe in Jesus have our sins forgiven and are perfect in God's sight.  Our righteousness is not from ourselves, it's the result of God's grace and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  Praise God because we are perfect in his sight.

Since we're saved by grace and our sins are forgiven, does that mean obedience to the laws of God doesn't matter?  Of course it matters.  But Jesus doesn't want legalistic obedience to the letter of the law, Matthew 5:21-48 makes it clear that Jesus wants our values and attitudes to change.  For example, instead of not murdering someone, Jesus tells us we should deal with our anger, avoid insults and name calling, and resolve our conflicts with others quickly.  We're to have a change of heart so murder is no longer even a possibility anymore because we've dealt with the attitudes and emotions that lead someone to murder another.

If you find yourself struggling to obey any of the laws of God, you might ask yourself what attitudes you have that are contributing to the problem.  The way to defeat sin isn't by legalistically trying to obey the commandments, it's by changing our hearts and attitudes that keeps us from ever wanting to disobey God in the first place.  When God changes your heart you can overcome sin's power over you.

Attitudes for a New Year

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP2er @ 2:17 PM

Tomorrow is the start of a New Year and many people will be making resolutions for what they hope to accomplish in 2016.  Some of my resolutions include losing another 7-8 pounds, cleaning up and organizing my office at work, and organizing my finances and important documents at home.  Most of our resolutions are about things that would be nice if we accomplished them, but they're non-essential items.  That's why it's so easy to give up on our New Year's resolutions.

What if our resolutions this year included things that would transform out lives.  I'd like to suggest we consider developing some new attitudes for the New Year.  In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us about some attitudes that would help us deepen our relationship with God and make us the people God wants us to be.  These attitudes are known as "The Beatitudes."  If these attitudes become part of our lives they will make us "happy" or "blessed."

The "Beatitudes" require a radical transformation of our lives.  They run counter to the attitudes we learn from our earliest years.  Putting our faith in Christ is no guarantee that these "Beatitudes" will develop in our lives.  I've met many Christians who don't possess any of these qualities.  I think that developing the "Beatitudes" in our lives is the result of intentional spiritual growth on our part.  But when we do develop these attitudes we are able to be like salt and light in the world.  In 2016 would you consider making changes in your life that would allow you to truly please God and represent him everywhere we go?

This Sunday we begin a new miniseries that is part of our overall study of "JESUS: God and Man."  For the next three weeks we'll look at some of Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  You can worship with us on Sundays in Traditional Worship at 9:00 a.m. or Contemporary Worship at 10:45 a.m.

Emperors, Innkeepers and Shepherds

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OA10er @ 10:15 AM

The greatest event in human history occurred the day God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ and lived among us.  When we read Luke 1 and 2 and Matthew 2 we see God orchestrating all the events of Jesus' birth to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and to help us understand the purpose of Jesus' ministry.  This Sunday in worship, as we continue our study of "JESUS: God and Man," we'll see how Jesus was born at just the right time, in the right place, to the right parents and with the right witnesses.  I hope you'll come celebrate Christ's birth with us at First Baptist Riverside this Sunday at 9:00 or 10:45 a.m.

Think about what it means for us that the God who created the universe and who was actively involved in creating our lives came into the world to save us.  We call Jesus becoming man the "incarnation" because he took on human flesh.  The incarnation shows us that God loves us.  Even when we sinned, God never gave up on us.  Jesus was willing to make huge sacrifices to save us.  Jesus left everything that was his in heaven to come to earth with human limitations and be born in a stable.  Ultimately Jesus would die on a cross for our sins.  I can't imagine a love so great that God would come to earth to die for me.  Wow!

The incarnation reveals how much God values his relationship with us.  Jesus came to earth so that we could really know what God is like.  The gospels tell the story of God who became a man.  When we read about the things Jesus' did we see the actions of God.  When we read the things Jesus said, we hear the words of God.  We can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  And if we believe in Jesus, our relationship with God never ends - we will live forever with him in heaven, God's original creative intent is restored.

The incarnation calls us to live lives that have purpose and meaning.  Jesus started a mission that will continue until he comes back at the end of time.  In the interim our job is to carry on the mission Jesus started.  We carry on the mission by serving Jesus in the church by building up the believers and outside the church as we witness to others and show Christian love to those who are less fortunate than ourselves.  Your life matters because Jesus came to earth.

This Christmas read the Christmas story and think about what it means to your life that God became a man and lived among us.  The implications are amazing!

Am I Ready to Serve?

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OP6er @ 6:44 PM

When we read the Christmas story we find God asking a young woman and man, Mary and Joseph, to serve him in a way that would change their lives forever.  God was calling them to be the parents of his only Son, the Messiah, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.  Do you understand the influence a mother and father have on a child when he is growing up?  It's huge.  Can you imagine how carefully God searched for just the right people to do the job?

Mary and Joseph were ready to serve God when he called.  They loved God.  They had a strong faith in God and commitment to God.  They were humble.  They were people who had integrity.  They were courageous and willing to face uncertainty.  They were the right people at the right time.

This Sunday in worship I'm going to ask our congregation to answer the question, "Am I Ready to Serve?"  God has important work he wants done in our community and around the world.  Are we ready if God calls us to serve him?  Is our relationship with God good enough for us to hear him when he calls?  Do we have the faith to say like Mary, "I am the Lord's servant"?  Would we be willing to serve the Lord if we knew that what he asks us to do would change the course of our lives?  Do we have the moral and ethical integrity to be qualified to do the work God has for us to do?

God could use Mary and Joseph because they were ready to serve.  If you've never heard God's call to serve, could it be because you're not ready to serve him?  We all need to do whatever it takes to prepare ourselves so that when God gives us a job to do, we'll be ready to do it.  We'll learn how to get ready to serve this Sunday at First Baptist Riverside when we worship at 9:00 and 10:45 a.m.

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted by Joseph Lutz on OA9er @ 9:07 AM

May today be a time for each of us to reflect on the good things God does in our lives and say "Thank you!"  We owe everything to God.  He's the creator of all things.  God made us, knitting us together in our mother's womb.  He made every person we love who is part of our lives.  God has given us the talents and abilities to be able to work and care for our families.  God is good!

God has given us every spiritual blessing.  God sent His Son Jesus Christ to live among us and reveal Himself to us.  Jesus willingly died on the cross, paying the debt we owe for sin, so that we can be forgiven, our relationship with God can be restored, and we can be saved.  We have the hope of eternal life and heaven because of what Jesus did for us.  We have meaning and purpose in this life because God has called us to be part of a movement that can change people's lives and the world.  Praise God!

Each of us can make a list of the specific things God has done to enrich our lives and help us in our times of need.  So take time today to count your blessings and name them one by one.  By the time you're done you'll be amazed by all the blessings you've received and you'll be ready to give thanks and praise to God.

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