Sunday March 4, 2018 Gospel of Luke – “Why Religious People Reject Christ” Luke 4:14-30

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Luke 4:28-30
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way.”

As we study this portion of God’s Word, we need to take it to heart that most of us are religious people or we would not be in church this morning But being religious does not guarantee we will accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If anything, it increases the likelihood we will reject Him. It was the religious crowd in Nazareth that not only reacted against the sermon by Jesus, but they went right from their “church” service to try to shove the speaker off a cliff. I trust that no one here would do that (I will keep my eyes open), but still, we must be careful to examine our own hearts, so that we do not imitate the religious people of Nazareth in their hostile rejection of Jesus.

Any qualified male could read the Scripture and expound on it, so Jesus stood up to do this. There is debate about whether He deliberately chose the passage from Isaiah 61:1-2, or whether it was the assigned portion for that day, but Luke seems to hint that He picked the passage Himself. The initial response to Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth was favorable, although rather superficial. They were speaking well of Him and were amazed at the smooth manner in which He communicated. As sermon critics, they were giving the “hometown kid” good marks on His delivery and style. “Not bad! I can see why we’ve been hearing good reports about the young man. He’s a polished speaker.”

But it wasn’t long until the nodding heads began to stop, and the approving smiles turned to frowns. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. “Who does He think He is, making these claims about fulfilling this Scripture? He’s implying that His message applies to us! We’re not poor or slaves! We’re not blind and downtrodden! How dare He imply that He can be our Savior, as if we even needed one. If He really is so great, then why doesn’t He do here some of the miracles we heard that He supposedly did in Capernaum? Then we might believe in Him!” They were initially impressed by His style, but they took offense at the substance of His sermon. Their offense soon turned to rage and rejection.

Let’s apply this point to ourselves: It’s easy to accept Jesus on a superficial level. We hear that God loves us and that Jesus cares for all our needs, and that’s true. So, we welcome Him into our lives. But at some point, we begin to get a bit uncomfortable as we realize Jesus is confronting our pride and self-righteousness with His teaching. Rather than building up our self-esteem, Jesus begins shining the light of His holiness into the dark, hidden closets of our soul. We begin to see that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). At this point, you have a crucial decision to make. You can dodge the hard truths of the Bible, either by throwing out the whole thing or, as many people do, by finding a church where you hear more soothing, comfortable messages. Or respond to the leading of the Spirit. God’s way is that we face the hard truth about ourselves and submit to Jesus as Lord.

Sunday – November 12, 2017 Series Week Nine: “The Heart of a New Testament Church”

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SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week Nine: “The Heart of a New Testament Church”

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Ezekiel 36:26-28
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

It is true that we cannot “have it our way” when it comes to church, but rather we must function in ways that are consistent with sound doctrine, and which are obedient to the principles and commands of Scripture, illustrated by apostolic practice. We have been given certain terms like elders and deacons, and we have seen how the early church functioned. But let us not err by concluding that being a New Testament church is primarily a matter of terms and forms. The essence of a New Testament church is more a matter of the heart.

The New Testament church is made up of those whose sins have been covered and atoned for by the shed blood of Jesus, and who now have hearts of flesh, rather than hearts of stone. The New Testament church is one in which the Spirit of God dwells, empowering Christians to play their unique role in the body of Christ so that our Lord now ministers to the world through His body, the church. We can use all the right terms and have all the right forms and traditions, but fail to be a New Testament church because we lack hearts that are filled with faith, hope, and love – not to mention many other attitudes that should characterize the Christian (like humility, servanthood, joy, and thanksgiving). This is why a church may not have all the right terminology or just the right forms, but may nevertheless manifest the life of Jesus.

A New Testament church manifests Christ to the world. Through the presence and power of Christ, the church ministers to itself and then to the world. Thus, the church is not just about principles and procedures, but about people, people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, who have been joined to the church, and who are divinely indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. A New Testament church has New Testament life and power. It not only carries on the work of Christ, it manifests His character. The heart of a New Testament Christian (and a New Testament church) is the work of God’s Spirit, the outworking of the New Covenant inaugurated by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross of Calvary. It all begins with Jesus, just as it ends with Him. I pray that you have trusted in Him, and thus have become a part of His church.

Sunday – October 29, 2017 Series Week Seven: “Are Women Second Class Citizens?”

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SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week Seven: “Are Women Second Class Citizens?”

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1 Corinthians 7:17-18
Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.”

In our study on the Church and how we should go about “serving church,” a question has been raised by several people in our fellowship, namely the role of women in ministry. Clearly, the role and ministry of women plays a vital part in the spiritual life and ministry of the church. Since there are many who have not experienced the way we “serve church,” now is an opportune time to explain how and why we practice our ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).

The biblical teaching concerning the ministry of women in the church is strongly opposed by those outside the church (our culture), as well as by all too many who profess to be in the church through faith in Jesus. This is very disturbing and needs to be challenged from the Scriptures. It is my opinion, in order to reach a culturally and politically correct view of the role of women in the church, one must either ignore or deny clear biblical commands and instructions. Either that or these clear texts must be interpreted in a way that is frightening in its implications. If clear teaching on the ministry of women can be cast aside by mishandling Scripture, what other “unacceptable” doctrines will follow?

I must confess, I approach this subject with a greater than normal sense of uneasiness. It is not an uneasiness based upon doubt, for I am confident that what I am about to teach is the clear and consistent teaching of God’s Word. Neither am I uneasy because I fear that someone will come along who will cast this message aside as sloppy scholarship or as the ranting of a chauvinist (which is what some would say about Paul). I am uneasy that speaking so directly will cause someone to turn me off before they have actually considered whether or not what I am saying is true to God’s Word.

It is only fair for me to inform you that a number of my colleagues in ministry (outside our church) will likely disagree strongly with my conclusions. Thus, I am apprehensive because I do not wish to show disrespect or disregard for a number of my good friends and excellent bible teachers who hold different views on this issue. Nevertheless, I believe that what I am about to say needs saying. I only ask that you persevere with me through both lessons and consider whether or not this teaching is true to God’s Word. I trust that the Word of God through the ministry of the Spirit of God will speak to you. I don’t expect all to agree, nor do I believe that those who do agree will necessarily apply the Scriptures in the same way as I would. But I do hope and pray that these texts of Scripture will cause you to reflect on these important matters, and perhaps encourage you to make whatever adjustments are necessary and appropriate in both doctrine and practice to be true to God’s Word.

Sunday – October 22, 2017 Series Week Six: “Spiritual Gifts in the Meeting of the Church”

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SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week six: “Who Thought Pickles Belonged on That?”

Word On Worship – Sunday – October 22, 2017 Download / Print

1 Corinthians 14:39-40
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

There is great debate in the Church today over the use of spiritual gifts in the meeting of the Church. All too often we try to restrict and control the use of the gifts in such a way as to make them seem like we are college students trying to decide on a career choice. We must revise our thinking concerning spiritual gifts. Most often the subject of spiritual gifts is taught in this way: We all have a spiritual gift or gifts. We are to study the Scriptures to find out what the list of options are and how each gift is defined and recognized. Then we must determine what our gifts are and develop them. Finally, we are to find a ministry where our gifts can be put to use.

While there is some truth in this view of gifts, it does not seem to square entirely with what Paul teaches about spiritual gifts. If all of the spiritual gifts are not listed in the New Testament, there must be other gifts as well. All of the gifts are not neatly defined (e.g., the “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge” in our text). Further, the form these gifts take (ministry) and the fruit (results, effects) are not the same for those who have the same gift(s).

I suggest we reverse some of our thinking and reject much of the remainder. God has given us a number of clear commands such as those outlined by Paul in Romans 12:9-21. Let us begin by focusing on these commands, and obey them in whatever circumstances God brings our way. In the process of obeying His commands, we will discover that God has given us a ministry, a place of service. Rather than waiting to know our gifts and then seeking to serve God and His church, let us do the things God has commanded, trusting Him to empower us and produce supernatural results through His Spirit. We should give priority to those aspects of ministry which God has given us in which the power of His Spirit is evident. This does not always mean “success” as the world defines success. It is where spiritual fruit has been produced, where the gospel has been proclaimed, and where God has been glorified. Let us not agonize over the name or the label of the gift, but let us strive to develop the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6), and employ them as good stewards of the grace of God (1 Peter 4:10-11). Let us never take credit for what God has accomplished or take pride in God’s work in us or measure spirituality by one’s gifts.

Let us be confident that if we are a Christian, God has an important place of service for us, and He will provide us with all the means necessary to fulfill our calling. Spiritual gifts assure us that the body of Christ needs us and will suffer without us. Spiritual gifts enable us to do what God requires of us.

Sunday – October 8, 2017 Series Week Four: “Who Is In Charge Here?”

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SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week Four: “Who Is In Charge Here?”

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Colossians 1:18
He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

I want to answer the question, “Who runs this church?” While this may be a review for some of you old timers, those who are relatively new in this church may not understand how we operate as a church government. Many people wrongly assume that as the pastor, I run the church. I may be the teaching Elder here at Sunrise, but to assume that the pastor runs everything in the church is not only wrong, it is dangerous.

Many people also wrongly assume that our church government is patterned after the U. S. government and operates as a democracy. The pastors and the elders are the elected officers, similar to the President and Congress. At church business meetings, members can voice their opposition to whatever they don’t like and vote according to their preferences. While that system is fine for America, at the risk of sounding un-American, I must say God is not an American. He didn’t set up His church as a democracy, where the most powerful factions control the purse strings. We’re not free to impose our American ideas about government onto the church, unless we find those ideas in the Bible.

Another model that has greatly influenced how American churches are governed is that of American business. Most businesses have the chairman at the top, with his board of directors beneath him and the stockholders as the voting members of the corporation. When that gets carried into the church, the pastor is viewed as the CEO, the elder or deacon board are the directors, and the congregation represents the stockholders, who have their annual meet­ing to vote on how the business should operate. With that model, the answer to the question of who runs the church is, “The pastor does, along with the board of directors.” But, the stockholders have a say in things, and if the company isn’t going the way that they wish, they can vote those guys out of office.

While there may be a few similarities between the business and government models and the church, the biblical picture of church government is different. One major difference is that the church is not just an organization, but also a living organism. Webster defines an organization as “an administrative and functional structure.” He defines an organism as “an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent.” That describes the church. We are a living unity, the one body of which Jesus Christ is the head. Each member is a vital part of that body, separate in function, but mutually dependent on one another and on Christ, the head. Biblical church government is to allow Jesus Christ to truly function as the living head of His body. None of us should be seeking or voicing our will about various matters in the church, unless we are very convinced that our will coincides with God’s will as revealed in His Word.

Sunday – October 1, 2017 Week Three: “Why Do Good People Disagree on How to Serve Church?”

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NEW SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week Three: “Why Do Good People Disagree on How to Serve Church?”

Word On Worship – Sunday – October 1, 2017 Download / Print

1 Corinthians 11:16
“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God.”

First, our differences may be matters of conviction, rather than matters of doctrine. While some aspects of church life are (at least in my opinion) non-negotiables, not all fall into this category. Some practices are simply a matter of choice. Whether or not to have a Sunday school, or to meet on Wednesday nights for prayer meeting, are not matters written in stone. Thus, some of our differences are merely matters of conviction.

Second, some truths are more crucial than others. Minor differences should not divide churches, but should be an occasion to manifest grace and to display true Christian unity. Some doctrines are what we would call “fundamentals of the faith.” The rejection of one of these doctrines has both earthly and eternal consequences. To reject the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of our Lord, or the doctrine of justification by faith would have grave implications. To differ over whether communion should be observed weekly or monthly would not have the same consequences.

Third, being biblical entails more than just using the right terms and having the right forms. Being biblical necessitates having the right heart attitudes. This is actually a summation of our series, so I will not dwell on it here. But suffice it to say that there may very well be churches that do not have all the right forms (or all the proper terms), but who have biblical attitudes, and thus they may function better than other churches that outwardly appear to get it right.

It is not my purpose to prove us right and all others wrong; it is my goal to explain how and why we “serve church” as we do, and to show how we deal with Scripture to come to our conclusions. To be honest, I don’t expect to convince everyone that we are doing it right. For some, learning how and why we “do church” may prompt them to look elsewhere for a church that functions more closely to their understanding of Scripture. But I would hope that some will find our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) something you believe to be biblical, and thus something that you want to embrace and support.

Sunday – September 24, 2017 NEW SERIES Week Two: “Why is the Church Important to God?”

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NEW SERIES: “The Church- Can We Have It Our Way?”
Week Two: “Why is the Church Important to God?”

Word On Worship – Sunday – September 24, 2017 Download / Print

1 Timothy 3:14-15
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Why would I want to preach a series asking if we can do church “our way?” Maybe some will hear it and decide, “I’m out of here.” Maybe it will expose a lot of problem areas with our church, leading to grumbling and discontent. And maybe it will help us understand the glorious purpose God has for redeeming His creation “which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12) and increase our desire to worship God with hearts that are focused on Him.

I’m preaching on this topic for several reasons. First, maybe someone here is in the process of looking for a good church, and you need to know what to look for. People pick churches for a lot of reasons, not all of them based on Scripture. Some like the “vibes” or feelings they get when they go to a church. Or, they feel welcomed and loved. Some pick a church based on what their kids like. For others, it’s the music or they like the building. And, some like a church because the pastor wears his shirt untucked. So we need to understand the biblical criteria for a good church.

Second, you may have friends who are looking for a good church, and you may find the opportunity to offer them some specific help. Although it should be the first place to look, it may not occur to them to find what the Bible says what constitutes a good church. You will be able to show them in the Scriptures what God has revealed as important in the work and service of the Church. You can also warn them about what to avoid in a church as well.

And, third, I think we should use these qualities of a good church to evaluate ourselves so that we can try to improve where we need to. We are not studying this topic to suggest we are perfect nor we are not studying this because of problems in the pews. Every church has room to improve and sharpen our focus. Also, before we look at these marks of a good church, we need to keep in mind that there are no perfect churches because churches are made up of imperfect people. As the old joke goes, “If you find a perfect church, don’t join it because you’d ruin it!” But, even though perfect churches don’t exist, there are good, solid, churches. We need strive to be a church focused on glorifying God through Jesus Christ.

Sunday – January 22, 2017 Thom Rachford

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Gen 12: 3 And I will bless those who bless you. 
And the one who curses you I will curse. 
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 17:8  I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

The living God made a promise to Abraham for him and his descendants. He promised them the land and through them an eternal blessing to all peoples.  God could do this because he is God and He says the land and the people of Israel are special to Him.  Many times in scripture God states his promises to Israel are forever.

Today however, the world treats Israel and her people as though they have no connection to the living God. Even some major Protestant Church organizations say that because Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah and King at his first advent, they broke the conditions of God, negating all promises, and so Israel and her people have been swept aside. They say any promises made to Israel now are given to “the church”.  If they find it difficult to connect any specific promise to “the church” they like to say that promise was symbolic, not literal.  How convenient.

Now that they believe Israel is cast off, these major denominations believe Israel to be supremely evil and refuse to do business with Israel or any business or organization that does anything with Israel.

Is this the point of view for “born again” Christians to have? As believers in Jesus, we are directed to search the scriptures for truth rather than just accept any person or organization’s word.

Sunday – May 22, 2016 “I Am the Way, Truth and Life”

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John 14:1
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Which of God’s commandments would you say is the most difficult for you to obey? Perhaps you would say, “The commandment, ‘Do not lie’ is most difficult because when I’m in a tight spot and I can twist the truth just a little, it seems harmless.” Perhaps you might point to the command of Jesus not to lust as one being very difficult to obey in a sensual society. Or what about Paul’s commandment: “Do all things without grumbling?” Maybe you have thought complaining is your spiritual gift. There’s no way you could obey that commandment, right?

Indeed, there are many difficult commandments. I think one of the hardest commandments to obey is: “Do not let your heart be troubled.” There’s so much to be troubled about: potential war and terrorist attack, corruption, crime, and economic pressure. If you weren’t feeling troubled, you probably are now. On top of the various national and international troubles, there are many “what if?” scenarios. What if I get cancer? What if I’m in an accident? What if one of my children dies? What if I lose my job? All this and much more can bring on heart trouble. That’s why some have said that we live in “The Cardiac Age.” Everyone seems to have heart trouble.

In the midst of a discussion of heart trouble and anxiety is Jesus saying: As difficult as your troubles and trials are right now, please know that the church is going to accomplish God’s eternal purposes. If you’re feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, observe the kingdom work of the church. The church is touching lives not only in our country, but throughout the world. When everything that could go wrong seems to be going wrong and your heart is hurting, please know that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church and God’s kingdom will advance. As difficult as your individual heart troubles are, they are momentary (2 Cor 4:16-18). God assures us that as we take our eyes off of our own troubles and focus on Christ’s work in His church, we will be strengthened.

I’m here to tell you that I understand what it is to experience heart trouble. Some days I am not the husband that I want to be and this hurts my heart and grieves me deeply. When I see Gwen growing up so quickly and recognize that I am losing opportunities to influence her, I can’t help but have heart trouble. There are times when the task of pastoring is overwhelming. I feel at times that this church needs someone whose skills are different from my own. Sometimes I am so confused about which way to go that I am almost paralyzed. I share these things with you for a reason. I know some of the heart trouble that you feel. What gets me through is what God is doing in the world in and through His church. May you and I take our heart trouble to the Savior and pray that He helps us take our eyes off our own concerns and put them on His work. Believing leads to seeing.

Sunday – March 6, 2016 Rev. 18:1-24 “Babylon the Great Has Fallen”

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Revelation 18:9-10
And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.”

In 1962, philosopher-scientist Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to signal a massive change in the way a community thinks about a particular topic. Examples of paradigm shifts include Copernicus’s discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and Darwin’s theory of evolution. Each changed the world of thought (some for better, some for worse) in a fundamental way. From a political perspective, Constantine’s Edict of Milan, issued in AD 313, was the beginning of a major paradigm shift that signaled the end of the ancient world and the beginning of the medieval period. That edict legitimated Christianity and impressed upon it the Empire’s stamp of approval.

From a theological perspective – specifically an eschatological one – the Edict of Milan also signaled a monumental paradigm shift from the well-grounded premillennialism of the ancient church fathers to the amillennialism or postmillennialism. In the two centuries that led up to the edict, two crucial interpretive errors found their way into the church that made conditions ripe for the paradigm shift incident to the Edict of Milan. The second century fathers failed to keep clear the biblical distinction between Israel and the church. Then, the third century fathers abandoned a literal method of interpreting the Bible in favor of spiritualized allegory. Once the distinction between Israel and the church became blurred and a literal hermeneutic was lost, the societal changes occasioned by the Edict of Milan caused fourth century fathers to reject premillennialism in favor of Augustinian amillennialism.

A simple concordance search of the word “Israel” in the New Testament will lead to the conclusion that the New Testament writers never equated the church with the nation of Israel. However, what the New Testament writers did not do, the post-apostolic fathers quickly did. As the church began to be dominated by people without Jewish roots, the hardening of the Jews’ hearts and the waning hope for Israel’s conversion made it easier for the increasingly Gentile church to rally against Judaism and to seek a replacement theology. The basic premise of the early fathers was that God had permanently cut the nation of Israel off as his people as a result of their disobedience and idolatry in the Old Testament and their rejection and crucifixion of Jesus in the New.

The bottom line, of course, is that we must continually go back to the Scriptures as our only source for “doing theology.” As much as we may respect and admire the early church fathers, or, for that matter, the reformers, the puritans, or a particular modern spiritual leader, we must always remember to be Bereans, checking their conclusions and reasoning against the plumb line of God’s Word.