CALIFORNIA -- Members of First Baptist Church, California, celebrated Easter twice -- focusing on God's gift of salvation through Jesus on April 8 and rejoicing in God's call to share the gift with others on April 15.
Vasil Tsiupko and Yaroslav Pyzh helped First Baptist celebrate missions April 15 -- Easter on the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Tsiupko, associate pastor of Boryslav Baptist Church in the Ukraine, preached the Sunday morning worship service. Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, interpreted for him.
Throughout its Great Commission Day, First Baptist celebrated past and present mission endeavors, beginning with a ministry and missions fair in the family life center.
Several representatives from ministries in which First Baptist is involved participated in worship. Daniel Puerto, pastor of the Hispanic congregation that meets in First Baptist's facilities, baptized Krasimir Petrov, a Bulgarian who grew up in Mexico.
Lionel Roberts, pastor of Holy Anointed House of Prayer in New Orleans, gave the invocation. The California congregation connected with the New Orleans church during cleanup efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
Involved in the Missouri Baptist Convention's partnership with West Africa, First Baptist is working with Ruth Cox, founder of Sheltering Wings in Burkina Faso. Begun in 1999, it sponsors primarily children's ministries, including an orphanage and school. Cox read scripture for the service.
Eduardo Soto Padin, pastor of Evangelical Church of the Word in Puerto Rico, gave the offertory prayer. First Baptist has had a long-term partnership with the Puerto Rican congregation. Padin was honored with a reception following evening worship to mark his retirement from full-time ministry.
"When people pray, they use two words -- give and bless," Tsiupko told Sunday morning worshippers.
Likely when listeners hear those words, they think of having a good job, good health, a beautiful wife, well-behaved children or a new house or car. Believers see these as a sign of a blessed life. "But what if we don't have these things? Does it mean we aren't blessed by God?" Tsiupko asked listeners.
He reminded worshippers of the challenges Paul faced in jail. Ephesians 1:1-14 relates Paul's account of the blessings he still had, even though he was incarcerated. The story points out five blessings all believers have.
First, God chose Paul, even though the apostle described himself as the chief sinner. God chooses followers in spite of their sin.
The second blessing is cleansing from sin, and the third is adoption into God's family. Paul's history was forgotten, and he was brought into the family of believers. God gives the same blessing to all who believe in him, Tsiupko said.
Fourth, God's inheritance is eternal. "No one can take it away from us," he said.
Fifth, Jesus gave his followers the Holy Spirit as a seal that everything God promised would be given. "The Holy Spirit is the deposit that what God promised, he will accomplish," he added.
"What kind of blessings are you looking for?" Tsiupko challenged listeners. "Do I look for blessings here or for blessings in heaven...those with meaning here or those with lasting meaning?"