Sunday – August 16, 2015 Revelation 2 verses 9 to 11

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Revelation 2:10
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Secular society has a theology of suffering easily summed up in two words seen on bumper stickers all across the country. While I cannot quote the bumper sticker exactly, you will recognize it when I tell you it reads, “… happens.” Or as the  King James translation would read, “Dung Happens.” If we were to “exegete” this slogan, we would see the fruit of this theology provides the following affirmations (not truths). First, suffering equals dung. Suffering is not just worthless; it is repugnant and disgusting. It has no value. Second, suffering is random and senseless, similar to a drive-by shooting which comes upon innocent victims unexpectedly without reason or provocation. It just happens.

Sadly, many contemporary Christians’ theology of suffering believes suffering is unpredictable and unavoidable; we can do nothing to avoid it and certainly we cannot make something of it. We can only passively accept and endure, hoping it will end as soon as possible. One reason this has become so prevalent in the Church today is the wide-spread preaching of a distorted gospel in which Christ is presented as the key to earthly bliss and the solution to all our problems.  As a result, many think Christians do not suffer. Such pseudo-Christianity becomes evident when suffering does occur and the misinformed believers abandon their profession of faith.

Christians must categorically disagree with this theology of suffering. First, we know that while God does not “cause” all suffering, no suffering comes our way but that which God has purposed for our good and for His glory. God may not “cause all things” but He does “cause all things to work together for good, to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Therefore, the Christian dares not view suffering as a negative experience (“dung”) but as something positive. Suffering is neither random nor senseless; it is part of the divine plan. We also dare not look upon suffering as something we merely endure; for the Christian, suffering is an experience in which we may rejoice.

Only salvation through Christ can transform one’s values the way our Lord desired the saints in Smyrna to be transformed about suffering. Only when we see Christ as precious do we see the things of this world as valueless, indeed, even detrimental. That will include persecution and suffering just as much as comfort and riches. Have you found Him to be precious? Have you trusted in His shed blood as God’s provision for your sin? I earnestly urge you to do so, even now.

Sunday – August 9, 2015 “Ephesus Love Lost” Part 2 Revelation 2 verses 1 to 8 pt 2

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Revelation 2:7
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

Have you ever put yourself in the shoes of John as he is trying to write out the revelation that has been given to him from our Lord Jesus? He is the last apostle standing. In John 21 Peter had been grumbling when Jesus told him they would bind his hands and lead him where he did not want to go and he wanted to know why John’s fate was not going to be his. But at this time all of the other apostles, as far as we know, are dead and only John is left. He is no longer a young man, and his time for departure is very near – whether that be from old age or his exile on the island of Patmos as a prisoner.

The churches that are addressed in the Book of Revelation are moving from first generation churches to second generation churches. When we consider the history of Israel, after God has moved in a powerful way the transition between generations was never easy. The same is true for generations in the church. In Acts 19, we are told that the gospel spread throughout all of Asia (modern day Turkey). The idol makers were greatly distressed because of the hit that their businesses took. Even imposters like the seven sons of Sceva tried to get in on the rising tide of God’s powerful work. Even people of Ephesus cleared out their books on the occult and idol worship, taking them out to the city square and burning them. And yet Jesus tells them He has something against them.

The first generation church, based on what they saw and experienced, realized the sufficiency and the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. But that was nearly forty years before. It was a distant memory for the older generation and merely a story that was told to the next generation as they heard their parents repeat yet again what God did “back then.” I cannot help but think John was sitting on the island of Patmos and wondering what all of this meant for the ensuing generations and what this would mean for the future of Jesus Christ’s church.

This should cause each of us this morning to pause for a moment. If it had been roughly forty years after the church at Ephesus had been born when Jesus gave this revelation to John, we should remember that is drawing very close to the age of Sunrise Community Church. The passing of time is not always good. Churches, like human bodies, tend to have life spans. Unless love is continually kindled, bodies move from old to cold. And so I wonder if the problems the church at Ephesus faced at the writing of this letter may not be too different than the problems that face us today. I believe this letter is one we should listen well to what is said.

Sunday – August 2, 2015 “Ephesus Love Lost” Part 1 Revalation 2 verses 1 to 8

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Revelation 2:4-5
“’But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.”

As a disclaimer, both here and in the message, any discussion about the churches in the Book of Revelation requires the reader (as all Scripture should do) to examine themselves. Self examination is never a pleasant process, which is why so few people approach the Scripture with an attitude of humility, asking the Lord to search their hearts and their will, to allow the Spirit to show them deficiencies in their heart so they may walk with the Lord. This is even more necessary in Revelation 2 and 3. There is a spiritual pride that gives us the ability to see splinter in the eyes of these churches, but blinds us to the log in our lives and in our church.

You may have houseplants to decorate your house that you simply forget to water– not because you decided you did not like the plants anymore but rather you get busy doing other things. We all take such simple things for granted. Time goes by and our day continues to fill up with all the activities that must be completed. By default, watering the plants ends up being ignored. The same is true of love. I don’t think anyone sets out to stop loving, but out of neglect love grows cold.

The issue with the church of Ephesus is that they have left their first love. The question for the scholars and those of us who are more pragmatic is, what is first love? Is it a matter of first in priority or first in a sequence? Is it our love for God or is it our love for others? Some have suggested it is our love for the lost who need to know the gospel. I think all of these are true, but it still does not answer the question: what is our first love?

As I study this passage, let me tell you my definition. Our first love is the love we experienced and then expressed when we came to faith. What it means is all dimensions of love – not just our love for God and not just our love of others and not just our love to see people saved – but every facet of love. This is what I see lived out in the Book of Acts when the Church was started. With this as a working definition of first love, I want to challenge you to go to the Lord and ask Him to show you where you have left your first love. Is it in how you worship? How well do you love others, not just in words but in attitude and action? How concerned are you for the lost? I believe the Lord has many things to tell us if we are willing to listen and learn the lessons to the seven churches of Revelation.

Sunday – July 26, 2015 “Look Who’s Talking” Revelation 1 verses 4 to 20

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Revelation 1:7-8
“BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Do you really believe God wants no idols? Many people think of Martin Luther as a prophet. But he wrote, “My spirit cannot adapt itself to the book and a sufficient reason why I do not esteem it highly is that Christ is neither taught nor recognized in it.” Some this morning will not think for themselves, but wait for their Bible teacher to wrestle with it, because like Mr. Luther, their mind is made up already.

Personally, I cringe when I read Luther’s appraisal of the Book of Revelation. Having said this, I fear that Luther’s words may reflect an attitude toward Revelation that is far more common than we would like to believe. How much of Christ do we seek to see in the Book of Revelation, and in the rest of biblical prophecy? When we come to the Book of Revelation we may be so intent upon discovering the events of the future and the means by which they will be brought to pass that we fail to focus on the Person of our Lord, who is preeminent in prophecy, and who should be the focus of our attention.

The focal point of verses 1-8 is the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is His work. It is the fact that He has received the revelation and He has communicated it. It is the fact that He is the One who has come as the Witness, who is the Firstborn from the dead, who is going to be the Ruler of kings. He is the One who has loved and released us and made us a kingdom of priests. He is coming again with power and authority to subdue His enemies.

If men saw Jesus Christ as He really will be then they would see Him as John did. John could rest on the bosom in the Gospel of John, but he falls dead before His feet in Revelation. What I am saying is that we have a totality of the Person of Christ. The disciples kept saying, in effect, give us a glimpse, give us a look, let us behold Your glory. But there was a sense, in His first coming on earth, in which that glory was subdued. It was suppressed, veiled, for a purpose. But in Revelation the veil was removed and now we see Christ exalted, lifted up, all-powerful; all of that glory, that visible manifestation of His deity that had been veiled over Him at the first coming was removed. Now Jesus Christ is seen in His totality.

Sunday – July 19, 2015 Introduction of Revelation- “The Purpose of Prophecy”

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2 Peter 1:19-21
So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

By its very nature, prophecy is mysterious. That can be good, but it also can be a hindrance. Curiosity can be a dangerous commodity. Suppose someone comes to you and says, “I want to confess that I….” It is possible, even likely, that curiosity is the source of your listening, not genuine concern. The same curiosity can be aroused by our study of prophecy. We would like to know certain details more to satisfy our curiosity than conforming our lives to Christ.

It is very easy to deceive ourselves here by the use of semantics. We may speak of prophecy as “deep” spiritual truth. Truth that is deep, in my estimation, is that which leads to mature Christian living. The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this is what we intend to do, if God permits” (Hebrews 6:1-3).

Let us beware, then, when someone refers to prophetic study as “deep.” Often what we call deep is only obscure and speculative. The reason why others (naturally those less spiritual than we) cannot see the “deep truths” we see is because they are not there, not because they are on a higher spiritual plane. What is truly important, I believe, is what God says most frequently and most frankly. The disciples also had an unhealthy interest in their role in the kingdom. They thought about the future in terms of their prestige, their power, and their position, an attitude which Jesus often sought to correct (Mark 10:35-45).

Is it any wonder that American Christians are so interested in where America fits into God’s prophetic scheme? Common sport among Christians is to play the game of “Who’s who in prophecy.” Is the antichrist Saddam Hussein? Is a powerful computer in Europe a part of the satanic program? Of course Satan is constantly grooming a man for the job. But we are not often profited by speculation. The same could be said for date setting. This practice has only served to make Christians a laughing stock. The words of Peter should serve to warn us about the dangers of speculation or, in his words, “private interpretations.”

Let us seek to avoid the pitfalls which Satan would use to distort or distract us from the purpose God has for us in this prophecy. And let this prophecy stir our souls to worship, obedience, and perseverance. May the person of Christ and our reunion with Him be our goal and our consuming desire.

Sunday – July 12, 2015 “The Men Who Had Connections with God” Ezekiel 14 verses 12 to 20

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Ezekiel 14 verse 19 & 20
“Or if I should send a plague against that country and pour out My wrath in blood on it to cut off man and beast from it, even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live,” declares the Lord God, “they could not deliver either their son or their daughter. They would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.”

But maybe you’re thinking, “Does God have favorites? I thought that He received everyone equally.” The answer is, God may not have favorites, but He does have intimates. Some people have connections with God in a way that others do not. When they pray, God listens. In at least two Scriptures, God acknowledges that certain men had special influence with Him. In Jeremiah 15:1 , God tells the prophet that even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before Him, His heart would not be with this people, so great is their sin. The implication is that these two men normally had special influence, although in this case, even they would not prevail. This week we will look at Ezekiel 14, where God tells Ezekiel that even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were to pray for this people, He would not grant deliverance, except to these men alone

That’s the context of Ezekiel 14. The city of Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed, but it now was inevitable because God had determined that it must be judged as a testimony of His separation from His people’s sin. God had graciously warned them over and over for centuries. But finally they had crossed the line. Now, not even the prayers of righteous Noah, Daniel, or Job could prevail.

We make a serious mistake if we think that God’s patience has no limit. His grace is great. His patience goes much farther than human patience ever could go. But there is a limit. There’s a limit nationally, when God as sovereign says, “That’s enough!” He told Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in another land for 400 years and then they would return to the land of Canaan. Then God added, “for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). God was patient with the immoral Canaanites for more than 400 years, but then He said, “That’s enough!” and commanded Israel to destroy them in judgment. Nations, like ours, that turn from the knowledge of God are presuming on His grace.

Also, there is a limit to God’s patience personally. If we have not responded to His grace, we face that limit at death, which can strike at any moment. But, also, it can come when a person repeatedly hardens his heart against God. He crosses a line where he is so confirmed in sin that even the prayers of the righteous for his salvation will not prevail. We never know for sure when that line is crossed. We know that God is both just and merciful. But the fact that the line exists ought to make us tremble at the thought of continuing in our sinful ways. “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” (Isaiah 55:6)

Sunday – June 28, 2015 “The Man Who Rejoiced in an Invasion” Habakkuk 1 to 3

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Habakkuk 1:2-4
“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted. “

Every Christian wrestles with two problems: Why doesn’t God answer my prayers sometimes? And, why does God allow the evil to prosper while the righteous suffer? What is the purpose of God when sin is celebrated by a nation and yet, from our position, it seems God sits in the distance not hearing the cries of the righteous? We especially wrestle with these two questions when they converge on us personally. When an evil person is harming us or someone we love, and we pray, but God does not answer, it is especially tough.

The prophet Habakkuk wrestled with these sorts of questions. He is unique among the prophets in that he did not, in his written message, speak for God to the people, but rather spoke to God about his struggles over these basic human questions. Why does God allow evil to go unchecked, especially when the righteous cry out to Him for justice?

Habakkuk took his questions and complaints to the Lord and worked through them in prayer, waiting on God for answers. When you wrestle with doubts on difficult issues like the problem of evil, you must proceed with caution. Some wrongly withdraw from God and His people into their own world of depression and pouting. Others angrily pull the plug on God entirely and go their own way into the world, convincing themselves that God must not exist or He wouldn’t allow the terrible things that go on every day in this evil world. Still others hang on to their faith, but it becomes a mindless, anti-intellectual, subjective experience where they just don’t think about disturbing questions.

That’s what Habakkuk did. He kept crying out to God for an answer, and when God’s even more difficult answer came, he stationed himself at his guard post to keep watch until the Lord would speak and reprove him (2:1). God’s second answer to Habakkuk included the great verse, “The righteous will live by his faith” (2:4b). When Habakkuk comes to his final prayer in chapter 3:1-19 he doesn’t have all the answers, just as you and I often do not have all the answers to why issues of pain and suffering have come upon us. We cannot fully understand the ways of the sovereign God, just as Habakkuk did not understand God’s ways. But he had grown in understanding and he could by faith pray with joy, knowing that God was his salvation and strength.

Sunday – June 14, 2015 “The Man Who Bought Property in a War Zone” Jeremiah 32

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Jeremiah 32:6-8
“And Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, “Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.”‘ “Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.”

Buying real estate is always a speculative idea. Buying real estate after you have been prophesying the nation that land was in would be taken captive by the Babylonians and utterly destroyed is completely insane.  Yet that’s exactly what God asked His prophet Jeremiah to do. Jerusalem was under siege, on the brink of falling to the Chaldeans. Jeremiah was in prison because he had been preaching that the nation was going to fall and that God wanted them to surrender.

Jeremiah obeyed, but then he got a bit confused. Had he done something dumb? If God was going to overthrow Israel by the Chaldeans, as Jeremiah had been preaching and as seemed imminent, then why did God tell him to buy this land? So after the transaction was completed, Jeremiah prayed, and God granted him the answer he needed to endure. His prayer teaches us some lessons on how to pray by faith in a bleak, confusing situation.

Jeremiah wasn’t crazy; he was being obedient to God’s difficult command. The point was to illustrate, by faith, that houses and fields and vineyards would again be bought in Israel (32:15). In Jeremiah 31, God had promised and Jeremiah had proclaimed that the days were coming when God would form a new covenant with His disobedient people, where He would write His laws on their hearts and forgive their sin, where they would be His people and He would be their God. By purchasing this field, God was asking Jeremiah to put his money where his mouth was. To pray by faith that God would fulfill His promises of restoring His people, Jeremiah had to be obedient to this difficult command. The principle is just as valid today as it was then. You cannot pray by faith for God to fulfill His promises to you or to His church if you’re not obeying Him at whatever points obedience is difficult.

Remember, Jeremiah never lived to see those promises fulfilled. But because he believed in a sovereign God who would fulfill all of His promises to His people, Jeremiah could obey God’s difficult commands and trust that God would do the humanly impossible. Through Jeremiah’s prayer in this difficult and confusing situation, God granted him the understanding he needed to endure.

Sunday June 7, 2015 “The Man Who Cried for God to Come Down” Isaiah 63

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Isaiah 63:17
“Why, O Lord, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.”

Through God’s Spirit, the prophet Isaiah saw a desperate future time in Israel’s history. Because Isaiah predicted conditions that would take place about 100 years after he wrote (after the Babylonians conquered Judah), liberal critics have said that Isaiah couldn’t have written this. But I believe that God revealed the future to the prophet and led him to pray this prayer as a gracious way of teaching us how to lay hold of Him and His power in times of great spiritual need.

Isaiah pictures God as shut up in heaven, removed from His people who are suffering because of their sin. In an emotional outburst, the prophet calls upon God to rend the heavens and come down in great power, even as He did at Sinai, to restore His people and to make His name known among the nations. His point is that complacency with the existing low spiritual condition among God’s people is the enemy of revival. Remember the lukewarm church at Laodicea? They were content: “We’re rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But God’s evaluation was that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

I know of two ways to keep from lapsing into lukewarmness and thinking that it is normal. First, steep yourself in the Bible so much that when you hear of the worldliness of the modern church, you are appalled. God’s Word must shape our worldview.Second, read church history and read some of the great men of God from the past. You will learn how God has worked in history, and you will read men who were not tainted by our modern worldview. But the fact that they wrote in a different time and culture will often jar you to see how far we have drifted. That is the start of revival praying – when some of God’s people begin to feel the lack of His working in our day.

Never before has the church had so many methods available to us, but at the same time, so little experience of the power of God. Christians need to know the living God in a deeper way. Also, we need to entreat God to pour out His Spirit through a revived church, so that His power in salvation would turn millions in repentance and faith to Him.

Sunday May 31, 2015 “The Man Who Won a War Without Fighting” 2 Chronicles 20:1-30

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2 Chronicles 20:5-6
“Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord before the new court, and he said, “O Lord, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You.”

The story of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, provides us with helpful instruction on the subject of prayer and trusting God when we face severe trials. Jehoshaphat was basically a good king who sought to follow the Lord and bring God’s people back to Him (19:4-11). He ruled in the southern kingdom at the same time that the wicked Ahab ruled in the north. But although he was a good king, Jehoshaphat had a character flaw: He made wrongful alliances with the godless Ahab. His motive in these alliances may have been good, to reunite the divided kingdom. But he was unwise and wrong.

One morning Jehoshaphat was shaken when his intelligence sources came running in with the horrifying news: the enemy army was about 15 miles south of Jerusalem, on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Jehoshaphat’s life and his entire kingdom were on the brink of extinction. What would you do if you heard some threatening news that affected your future and maybe your life? This godly king did the right thing: He called a national prayer meeting and encouraged the people to trust God in the face of this overwhelming crisis. They did it, and literally won the war by prayer alone, without swinging a single sword.

It’s easy to read this story and miss what a great thing it was for Jehoshaphat to call the nation to prayer over this crisis. It would have been very human to panic. When he heard the news of this army within his borders, we could understand if he yelled, “Call all my top generals. Get the army mobilized immediately. We don’t have a second to waste.” As soon as the troops were mustered, if there was time, he could have stopped for a quick word of prayer. But for Jehoshaphat to turn his attention to seek the Lord and to call the nation to prayer and fasting was not automatic.

God never fails those who trust Him and obey His Word. That is not to say that He delivers everyone who trusts Him from suffering or even death. There are many who have trusted God and lost their heads (Heb. 11:36-40)! But this earthly life isn’t the final chapter. All who suffer loss for Jesus will be richly rewarded in heaven or God is a liar. Just as Israel was enriched literally by the spoils of victory, so we will always be enriched spiritually through our trials if we recognize our great need, pray to our great God, and trust in Him alone, not in the arm of the flesh.