Sunday – December 11, 2016 Genesis 23:1-20 “A Piece of the Promise”

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Genesis 23:1-3
Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.”

No subject is more difficult for us to face than that of death. Writer Somerset Maugham said, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” He was probably being facetious, but underneath he was probably voicing a fear that has haunted most of us: How are we to think about and deal with death, be it the death of loved ones, or our own death? But, of course, we can’t dodge it – we must die. But it’s still difficult to think about.

That question has caused some confusion among God’s people. Some have said that since Christ defeated death, we’re supposed to be joyful and victorious through it all. They deny the process of grieving. Others are quick to explain how God will work it all together for good, which is true. But we still grieve and feel the pain. Genesis 23 provides some answers to the question of how believers should deal with death. Abraham, the man of faith, loses his wife, Sarah. His response reflects both realism and faith.

It is interesting that only two verses deal with Sarah’s death and Abraham’s grief, whereas 18 verses deal with his negotiations to secure a burial plot –  but all of it is testifying that Abraham believed in more than a piece of real estate. They testify that God’s promises do not end with this life. God is going to do far more than He has done for us in this life. As the author of Hebrews says, they were desiring “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). Abraham was “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb. 11:10). His faith looked beyond the grave to the promises of God to send the Savior, and through Him to bless all nations.

Death, even for believers, brings hard realities. It always hurts, it always leaves us with a lonely spot in our hearts. It often brings hard financial realities. The Lord does not spare us these things just because we believe in Him. But with the pain, which reminds us of our sin as the reason death entered this world, He gives us the hope of His promises. Christ died for us, so that the sting of death is gone. Yes, we grieve at the death of loved ones, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. He has gone to prepare a place for us. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

Sunday – December 4, 2016 Genesis 22:1-24 “The Lord Will Provide” Part 2

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Genesis 22:9-11
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.”

I believe many have read this account in Abraham’s life and concluded that God tests us by directing us to do that which is totally unreasonable. The danger is that we will tend to assume that whatever does not make sense is likely to be the will of God. Many critics have suggested that Christians are those who take both their hats and their heads off when they enter the church, and nothing should be further from the truth. On the other hand, we must acknowledge that what Abraham was commanded to do appears to be unreasonable. Through Isaac, Abraham was to be the father of multitudes. How could this be so if Isaac were dead? Putting a son to death must have seemed totally beyond the character of God. Was God not asking Abraham to act on faith without reason?

The world likes to believe that they act upon reason while Christians act without thinking. That is wholly false. The truth is there are two kinds of reasoning: worldly reasoning and godly reasoning. Peter, when he rebuked our Lord for talking of His sacrificial death, was thinking humanly. Abraham was making no blind “leap of faith,” as it is sometimes represented, but acting upon godly reasoning about who God is and what He had promised to do for Abraham. Faith always acts upon facts and reason.

Christian reasoning is based upon the pre-suppositional belief that there is a God, Who is both our creator and redeemer. Christian reasoning is based upon the belief that God’s Word is absolutely true and reliable. God had promised a son through Sarah through whom the blessings were to be given. Abraham believed God in this (Genesis 15:6). God also commanded Abraham to sacrifice this son. Abraham believed God and obeyed Him even though human reasoning would question the wisdom of it. Abraham’s reasoning was also based upon his experience with God over the years. God had continually proven to be his provider and protector. God’s sovereign power had repeatedly been demonstrated, even among the heathen such as Pharaoh and Abimelech. While Abraham and Sarah were “as good as dead” so far as bearing children were concerned, God gave them the promised child (Romans 4:19-21).

Abraham did not understand why he was told to sacrifice his son nor how God would accomplish His promises if Abraham obeyed, but he did know Who had commanded it. He did know that God was holy, just, and pure. He did know that God was able to raise the dead. On the basis of these certainties Abraham obeyed God, contrary to human wisdom, but squarely based upon godly reason. Godly reason has reasons. We may not know how or why, but we do know Who and what. That is enough.

Sunday – November 27, 2017 Genesis 22 :1-24 “Final Exams” Part 1

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Sunday – November 20, 2016 Genesis 21:1-34 “He Who Laughs Last”

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Genesis 21:9-10
Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.  Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my Isaac.”

Fourteen years earlier, Hagar had given birth to Ishmael and for most of the intervening period Abraham had treated Ishmael as the heir. By now Ishmael was a teenager (15 or 16). As a growing and alert teenager, he in no way would miss the message he was hearing. His parents had often told him that he was the promised seed and now he gradually began to realize that his folks were in error. They had deceived him as well as themselves. Bitterness and anger began to well up in Ishmael as Isaac, little by little, began to replace him. And no doubt the great feast and the glad speeches in Isaac’s honor caused these feelings of bitterness to reflect themselves in ridicule and persecution. What he did and how he did it, we can only conjecture. But one thing is sure: Ishmael’s jealousy turned into mockery.

Sarah forcefully gave Abraham an ultimatum. Sarah was ticked off! She doesn’t want to share her husband with her servant girl. Sarah recognizes that it is impossible for a man to enter into an intimate relationship with a woman and then simply walk away. The relationship that Abraham had with Hagar was more than just physical. Abraham and Hagar became one. The evidence of the sexual union between Abraham and Hagar was Ishmael. Not only did Sarah not want to share her husband, she also does not want to share Isaac with Ishmael. Sarah recognizes that Isaac is the promised seed, so she doesn’t want anything or anyone to adversely affect him. Of course, all of this “distressed” Abraham (21:11-12). Yet, God reassured Abraham that He was divinely guiding Sarah’s counsel.

This parting must have been excruciating. I’m sure that Abraham never dreamed that sleeping with Hagar would lead to so much heartache and confusion. In fact, I’m sure he justified it in his own mind as the best way to make his wife happy and also to “help” God keep His promise. But it didn’t work out that way. Sarah was wrong to suggest the idea and Abraham was doubly wrong to act on it. If he had been the proper kind of spiritual leader, so much heartache would have been avoided.

When we compromise our standards, lower our convictions, or when we try to take a moral or ethical shortcut, it never works out in the end. Choices have consequences…and sometimes they are painful. As believers, we need to learn this lesson well. We also need to make sure that our children and grandchildren learn this lesson early in life. Choices have consequences. When we sin and confess that sin we are forgiven but the consequences of those choices often carry on. Please don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Determine today that you will learn from the experiences of Abraham and Sarah. Do not sow your wild oats and then pray for a crop failure- it is unlikely to happen.

Sunday – November 13, 2016 Genesis 20:1-18 “Been There, Done That”

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Genesis 20:2-3
Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.

As you eyeball Genesis 20, you may be having an experience of déjà vu. Previously, we looked at a very similar account in Genesis 12:10-20. In that passage, Abraham and Sarah devised a scheme to avoid problems with Pharaoh in Egypt. Abraham asked his wife to lie and tell the Pharaoh that she was his sister. Now, eight chapters later, the names and places are changed but the results are nearly identical. This has led some to say it really was the same account recorded twice. Yet, clearly these are two different accounts. The reason we take up this second account is because it speaks to an issue that is relevant to all of us: recurring sin. Here, we see Abraham making the same mistake again.

This is not a surprise, it parallels our own experience. Aren’t there things in your own life that dog you relentlessly? Are there sins that you have taken to the Lord and said, “Never again?” Only to find you return to the Lord to confess the same sin again and again. It may have to do with substances (drugs or food). It may have to do with interpersonal relationships (gossip or anger). It may be physical (some habit you can’t shake). It may be mental (lust or anger). It may have to do with money (lust for the material or reluctance to give to the Lord). It may have to do with time management (wasting time or neglecting time for God). Whatever the sin, I suspect you don’t have to look very far to find one or two that you struggle with constantly.

It is so common to think that God will love us more if we perform some great work, some external achievement. But the Bible focuses on making a great heart. Here God was working with Abraham to create an unusual dependence upon Him. He does the same with us today. Abraham needed to learn that God can be trusted to take care of him. He needed to learn that lesson well, because there would be an exam – a test of his faith, coming up. God would take him back to the same hurdle over and over again, so that he would be prepared to jump over it with flying colors.

This is also true for us. Today, you may feel like giving up. Repeated failures always tempt us to give up. But that is exactly what the devil wants us to do! Therefore, focus on the goal and not the obstacles. Remind yourself that growth takes time. If you have children, you remember when they first learned to walk. How often they would fall. Sometimes they banged their head. Other times they cut their lip. But one thing is certain … they kept getting up. We need that same kind of focus as we learn to walk by faith. There will be falls. There will be times of frustration but keep getting up! When you have drifted, come back to the Lord. When you have sinned, confess it. When you have fallen, get back up and begin again!

Sunday – November 6, 2016 Genesis 19:1-38 “From Councilman to Caveman”

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Genesis 19:31-34
Then the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.”

Whenever you hear of professing Christians who have fallen into gross sin, you ask yourself, “How did they ever get to this low-level?” If the people involved had made no claim of being Christians, it would be one thing. But when they claim to know God and then commit the worst kind of sins imaginable, you wonder what’s going on.

Lot’s story is like that. If Lot were not a believer, you would say, “That’s the way this evil world is.” But Peter emphasizes that Lot was a righteous man (2 Pet. 2:7-8). So when you read about his two daughters getting him drunk and committing incest with him, you wonder how a believer could get to that low point. Lot’s terrible sin should make us realize that just being a believer isn’t enough. Christians can fall into sins that are just as bad as those committed by unbelievers. Though Lot was a believer, he failed miserably with God and as a father. I want to examine why, so that none of us will fail the Lord and our families as Lot did.

The reason Lot failed is illustrated by an event that happened on June 5, 1976. On that day, under clear skies, without warning, the massive Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho collapsed, sending a torrent of water surging into the Snake River basin. There was extensive property damage and loss of life. It seemed to happen so quickly. Some workers on the dam barely had time to run for their lives. But it really didn’t happen suddenly. Beneath the water line, a hidden fault had been gradually weakening the entire structure. It started with just a tiny bit of erosion. But by the time it was detected, it was too late. No one had seen the little flaw; no one got hurt by it. But everyone saw the big collapse, and many were hurt.

That’s what happened to Lot. He allowed little sins in his life to go unchecked. They weren’t major, shocking kinds of sins – just “little” sins. I’m using the words “little” and “big” from the human perspective. By little sins I mean sins that people don’t consider serious, sins that we all tend to tolerate. By big sins, I mean sins like murder, adultery, incest, child abuse – sins that raise eyebrows and make us recoil in shock, sins that destroy families and reputations, leaving a trail of destruction. With Lot, the little sins were steadily eroding his moral character, until finally the sordid incident recorded here burst the dam. When little sins to go unchecked, they result in big sins.

Sunday – October 30, 2016 Matthew 5:13-16 “Salt & Light” Thom Rachford

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Matthew 5:13-16
You are the salt of the Earth. But if the salt loses its saltines, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your life shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Salt & Light

In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says his followers are salt and light. What are we called to do as salt and light? Salt and light can exist without being effective. They only fulfill their purpose and become effective when they are applied. Jesus expects us to utilize our salt and light. First, we must be sure that our salt is salty and our light is shining. How do we do that?

Saltiness comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to apply scriptures we study to our life so our attitudes are obedient to God’s principles and commands. For example, in our food we can readily taste the difference between salted and unsalted butter. The salt of Jesus should be just as distinctive and readily apparent in our lives. And like salt in our food, the Jesus within us should make us more “tasty” to those we encounter.

Our light should reflect THE LIGHT of Jesus by submitting to the Holy Spirit’s direction to make our actions extend from our Jesus attitudes as we conform to God’s word and principles. Light is always very noticeable in dark areas. Our light should be like a Lighthouse in our contact with the darkened world.

Amen

Sunday – October 23, 2016 Genesis 18:1-33 “Marks of Maturity”

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Genesis 18:23-26
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

One of the facts that humans have yet to master is that we cannot outperform God. In the movie Patch Adams, the main character (portrayed by Robin Williams) is an unconventional medical student who believes that humor and compassion are the most important tools of the doctor’s trade. His idealism is shattered when his girlfriend, who has helped him start a free clinic based on these principles, is murdered by one of the psychotic patients. As Patch stands on a high cliff pondering suicide, he has the following monologue with God: So answer me please — tell me what You’re doing…You can create man, man suffers enormous amounts of pain; man dies. Maybe You should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day — maybe You should have spent that day on compassion. As he looks down into the valley far below, again considering the possibility of jumping, he says, tragically, “You know what? You’re not worth it.”

These same sentiments resound like an incessant gong throughout our society. Talk to any person on the street and you will likely hear doubts about the fairness of God doing this or that. In today’s climate of tolerance, many reject the God of the Bible as an ogre. Sadly, many Christians unknowingly do the same. Whenever we raise questions about God’s justice we suggest, as Patch Adams did, that we would be more just if given the chance. When we question God’s love we imply that we can be more loving. When we question His grace, His mercy, His patience — name whatever attribute you will — if we think we can do them better than God, we have a defective view of God.

A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So what comes to your mind when you think about God? Do you question Him? Do you doubt His love for you? Or do you trust Him and find your confidence in Him? Wherever you fall on this scale, God wants to increase your view of Him because right Christian living comes out of right Christian thinking.

While it was comforting to have scriptures to comfort us, we will not find a text to answer our every question. God is far greater than all that is revealed about Him in Scripture. The Judge of all the earth will deal justly. That was our confidence. Have you lost a loved one about whose salvation you are doubtful? Are there problems and circumstances you cannot understand? Then rest in this: our God is all powerful; nothing is impossible with Him. And furthermore, this power is always employed in justice, truth, mercy, and love. What a comfort! What an encouragement to pray!

Sunday – October 16, 2016 Genesis 17:1-27 “Believe It – Or Not”

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Genesis 17:1-2
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”

“Jump and I’ll catch you.” Have you ever heard a parent say that to a child perched on some high place? Can you remember one of your parents saying that to you when you were little? Did you do it? Did you jump? In a sense, that is like something that God says to us. God reaches out to us in love. He initiates a relationship with us by making some promises to us. When we believe His promise of eternal life through Christ, we begin a relationship with God. Yet, this is only the beginning. God calls us to trust His promises and dare to live our lives as if we believe He will keep all of His promises. There is some risk involved in doing that. But unless we take that risk, we can never truly live the life of faith that God intends for us. God says, “Jump and I’ll catch you.”

Yet, there is a tension in this. While we are commanded to obey, Jesus works in us, through the Holy Spirit, to accomplish obedience in our lives. Just as the paint brush in the hands of an artist creates something beautiful, we are a small brush in the hand of God following His lead across the canvas of our lives. He leads and empowers and we leave the mark on the people around us.

El Shaddai is a designation, which emphasizes God’s infinite power (Exodus 6:3). Interestingly, the word El means “the strong one,” while the word Shadd refers to the bosom of a nursing mother. This suggests that God is the One from whom Abram was to draw strength and nourishment. By a most tender image, God seems to be saying that we are empowered to live out our responsibilities in the covenant by feeding on Him, just as a child grows by feeding on the milk of its mother.

This is a timely word. Abram had spent the last thirteen years living with the strife and turmoil that his sinful decision had produced in Ishmael. Now Abram was about to learn that God’s promises are fulfilled not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord Almighty (Zech 4:6). It would be El Shaddai who would accomplish His will in Abram’s life! God is able, whatever the circumstance and whatever the difficulty (Eph 3:20). Do you believe this? Is there anything too difficult for God to accomplish in your life? Can He restore your marriage? Can He transform your wayward child? Can He redeem your job? If He truly is a supernatural God, then He can. Will you put your trust in Him to work in your life?

Sunday – October 9, 2016 Genesis 16:1-16 “Beware of Shortcuts”

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Genesis 16:13-14
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

During World War II, six Navy pilots left their aircraft carrier on a mission. After searching the seas for enemy submarines, they tried to return to their ship shortly after dark. But the captain had ordered a blackout of all lights on the ship. Over and over the frantic pilots radioed, asking for just one light so they could see to land. But the pilots were told that the blackout could not be lifted. After several appeals and denials of their request, the ship’s operator turned the switch to break radio contact–and the pilots were forced to ditch in the ocean.

It’s terrible to feel abandoned. It’s also tough to feel abandoned by God. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Maybe things were going well and suddenly the bottom dropped out of your life. In the confusion of the events, you wondered, “Where is God and His wonderful plan for my life in all this?”

That’s how Hagar must have felt when she fled from Sarai. Things had seemed to look up for a brief moment. Her lowly status as a servant had changed when Abram, according to the custom of the day, had taken her to produce a child on behalf of the barren Sarai. But when Hagar became pregnant, she communicated an air of superiority toward Sarai, who then mistreated her. Finally, things got so bad that Hagar took off in the direction of her homeland, out through the desert. It was a dangerous thing for a woman to do. She could have been abused or taken captive by nomadic traders. Being pregnant, she could have lost her baby from the rigors of traveling in that rugged terrain. Having had to escape, probably in the night, she would have had few supplies. But somehow she made it to a spring of water in the desert and sat down exhausted.

Hagar knew about Abram’s God, the living and true God. She must have wondered if that God knew or cared about her situation. No doubt she was confused. What could a pregnant, single woman do, even if she reached her homeland? If she had family there, they would have been too poor to help her. Her future was uncertain, her past too painful to think about. She felt abandoned by everyone on earth and forgotten by God in heaven.

It’s in that context that we read, “Now the angel of the Lord found her” (16:7). What a beautiful picture of our compassionate God, who is concerned even for this poor, confused servant girl! The angel tells her what to do and then promises that he will multiply her descendants through the child she is carrying. Hagar, encouraged and awed by this experience, gives a new name to God–”El Roi,” “the God who sees.” She then returns to Abram and Sarai and Ishmael is born.