Sunday – January 22, 2017 Thom Rachford

Sunday – January 22, 2017 – Read the Word on Worship

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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”

Sunday – May 22, 2016 – Read the Word on Worship

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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.

Sunday – November 8, 2015 Revelation 5:8-14 “In Praise of the Lamb”

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Revelation 5:13-14
And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Some time ago I heard Pat Boone share his early childhood definition of heaven. It suddenly occurred to him while he was sitting (or was it squirming?) in church, agonizing through one of the pastor’s typically long and boring sermons. Heaven, Pat reasoned, was going to be just like church – one thousand years – ten thousand years – forever. It was almost too much to handle. Such a state of affairs seemed more like purgatory than perfection in his childhood mind.

Most Christians are assured that this childhood conception of eternity with God falls considerably short of the biblical description of heaven. In the words of the contemporary song, “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace …” If it is such a wonderful place, do you wonder why we do not spend more time talking about it? Simply put, Jesus talked more of hell than heaven, probably because hell and divine judgment are easier to identify with. All about us we see the ugly consequences of sin. We see suffering and anguish because of the evil in the hearts of men. There is enough “hell” on earth at present, so that we need only think of eternal torment in terms of greater degrees.

Heaven, on the other hand, seems almost inconceivable. As a young child I can remember attempting to comprehend time without end … infinity. Now I realize that heaven is even beyond that which I failed to fathom as a child, for heaven is the end of time; in heaven there is no time at all. The human authors of the Bible who have attempted to describe the beauties of heaven give evidence of their frustration at striving to depict an existence in a dimension beyond the grasp of mere mortals: “but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Let us seek to be heavenly minded, to pursue the kingdom of God and to pray for its coming. Let us also seek to be faithful in the present, serving in society as salt and light, and striving to lead others to Him Who is Life and Peace and Blessing. And let us persevere in our trials, knowing that our faithfulness will be rewarded when we see Him face to face.

Sunday – October 18, 2015 Revelation 2 & 3 “He Who Has an Ear, Let Him Hear”

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Revelation 1:19-20
Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Perhaps you’ve seen the television commercial in which a doctor instructs his patient how to perform surgery on himself – all over the phone. The “patient” asks the doctor, “Shouldn’t you be doing this?” One would expect something as serious as surgery to be performed by a surgeon – not by the patient. The same is true for the church. If the church is important, and its mission critical, then one would think that God would have significant involvement. He would not leave it for us to do ourselves, as best we can figure it out. Yet, many Christians seem to think that God has pretty much left the church on its own to figure out for itself just how it should function best.

It is generally accepted that the Gospel of Matthew has a Jewish focus. Noteworthy here is that Matthew is the only Gospel where the term “church” is found. In Matthew 16, we find Peter’s “great confession” and our Lord’s first reference to the church: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”  The coming of Israel’s Messiah was so that He could build His church. I am not saying this was His only reason for coming. What I am saying is that Matthew, a Jew writing to a Jewish audience, is saying this immediately after our Lord’s identity as Messiah is proclaimed by Peter. And this new confederation, His church, is so endowed with power that the gates of Hades cannot successfully resist or oppose it. The church is the means by which our Lord will overcome Satan’s domain.

I’m not quite sure how to say it any better than this. The church is very special to God. The imagery of our Lord’s relationship to the church depicts the love and intimacy between Christ and His church. He is the Shepherd; we are His flock. He is the groom; we are the bride. Christ loved the church and gave His life for it. That is exactly what Paul told the Ephesian elders: “Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28).”

Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29), and He keeps a watchful eye on the church, both in its victories and in its defeats. Our study in the first three books of Revelation demonstrates that our Lord knows exactly what is going on in each of the seven churches of Asia. He identifies their strengths and their failures far better than they knew- or we know about our body. Even today, the Lord Jesus gives us words of exhortation and words of warning. Our Lord cares about His church, and it shows.

Sunday – September 13, 2015 Revelation 3:1-6 “Sardis: A Mostly Dead Church”

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 Revelation 3:1
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”

From time to time I hear of the bands of my childhood come to town to play a concert. Some of the bands that are still touring today that were touring in the 1980s and I am shocked to see it. I will think to myself, “Wow, those guys are still touring?” The reason it is strange to me is because these bands are not putting out any new songs or any new music. They are simply playing the hits that were so great 20-30 years ago. They are living on the reputation that they made for themselves decades ago. But they are not creating any new, fresh music.

In Christ’s letter to the church in Sardis, He gets immediately to the heart of the problem. Christ describes Himself as the one who is in charge, holding the seven stars and has the seven spirits of God. Christ knows the works of the church at Sardis and they are dead. This is a dead church. In the other letters to the seven churches so far, Christ knows their works have been good for the church. Christ sees what the Christians are doing in their love, faith, and service. Christ also knows the works of the church in Sardis and those works are not good.

Even more interesting is the fact that they did not know they were a dead church. The church in Sardis had a reputation of being alive, but it was not living up to its reputation. The problem that Christ exposes is superficial Christianity. Members claim to be of Christ but they do not live like they are of Christ. They seem to be Christians, but the Spirit has left the body. They are not putting what they have received from the Scriptures into practice. Christ calls them and us to remember not just what they received and heard but HOW they received.

A dead church is a church that is living on its past. It has a great resume, but the work of Christ has run out of gas and the church will not finish well. How can we avoid such a fate, to start well but finish so poorly? Ask yourself, how has this week been different because of what you have heard from last week’s message? What act of ministry have you participated in? Or is that the pastor’s job because you pay him to do it for you? Are you mentally and physically participating in worship? Our Lord’s words to these churches are not to make us feel comfortable with where we are, but to cause ourselves to examine ourselves to see if our faith is changing us to be more like Jesus or are we becoming that touring band living on past glory?

 

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 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 3, 2015 “The Man Who Prayed About the Weather” -1st Kings 17-19

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1 Kings 18:36-37
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.”

Elijah came on the scene in the midst of the most corrupt reign in Israel’s history. The weak-willed Ahab had married the Phoenician princess, Jezebel, who introduced and aggressively promoted Baal worship on a wide scale (16:31-33). She had exterminated the prophets of Yahweh, except for 100 who were hidden by Obadiah, Ahab’s chief of staff, who was a secret believer (18:3, 13). Though they survived, those 100 prophets seemed to be silenced for the time being.

Certainly our times rival Elijah’s times for ungodliness. The American church desperately needs revival. Although polls show that at least one-third of Americans claim to be born again, a surface glance at our culture tells you that they understand something quite different than the Bible does by that term. Most Americans believe that there is no absolute standard of morality. Church people, including Christian leaders, are falling into sin at alarming rates. Many American Christians are entangled with greed and self-centered living.

I suspect that one of the reasons we are so ineffective in evangelism is that we are so much like the people around us that we have very little to which we can call them. We hang around church buildings a little more. We abstain from a few things. But we simply aren’t that different. As a result of this unfortunate accommodation, Christianity is reduced to little more than a spiritual crutch to help us through the minefields of the upwardly mobile life. God is there to help us get our promotions, our house in the suburbs, and our bills paid. Somehow God has become a co-conspirator in our agendas instead of our becoming a co-conspirator in His.

We desperately need God to send His fire to cleanse our sins and His showers of blessing to refresh us, that everyone would know that He alone is God, so that many sinners would turn to Him. It may not happen dramatically every time. But God wants us to join Elijah in praying about the weather – the spiritual weather – in our land. Though it is an ungodly time, through the prayers of the godly, God can make His glory known by turning many sinners to Himself.