Sunday – June 25, 2017 Genesis 42:1-36 “The Proper Use of Power”

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Genesis 42:21-22
Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.

Have you ever heard of a berkutchi? A berkutchi is an Asian man who trains eagles for hunting. The capture, taming, training, and keeping of eagles is highly ritualized. Once captured, the eagle is hooded and placed in a cage with a perch that sways constantly so it cannot rest or sleep. For two or three days it is also deprived of food. During this time the berkutchi talks, sings, and chants to the eagle for hours on end. Finally, he begins to feed and stroke it. Slowly the weakened creature comes to rely on its master. When the berkutchi decides that their relationship has become strong enough, the training begins. Not all eagles can be trained, but those who take to life with a master display intense loyalty. While the training and breaking of the eagle may seem harsh, it is a picture of how over time God breaks our independent spirit to draw us close to Him.

It is important to see what God is doing. God uses broken things: broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, and broken bread to give strength. God is going to break Joseph’s brothers by awakening their sleeping consciences. For years, Jacob and the boys lived life without having to think about God. Life went on as normal. They got up, did their work, came home, and the next day started all over again. Their needs were met; life went on as it always had. But with this famine God gets their attention. It is easy to avoid God when we feel self-sufficient. It is easy to feel that you have no need of God’s touch when everything is running smoothly. These men were comfortable in their denial and their deceptions. As long as the status quo remained they would never change. So God provokes a crisis. This crisis would either harden them further or wake them up.

God could have simply washed His hands of these brothers. But that’s not what He did with the Israelites and that’s not what He does with you and me. God loves us too much to let us go without a fight. So, at times He exercises “tough love.” He brings a crisis into our life that forces us to address ultimate issues. It may be an unexpected diagnosis, a financial emergency, an overwhelming situation, or a family crisis. In these situations God is often seeking to awaken us out of our spiritual lethargy. God lovingly put Jacob and his family in the midst of a famine in order to draw them to Him.

Are you going through a tough time? Is life a struggle right now? Could it be that God is trying to get your attention? Could it be that He is trying to awaken you out of your spiritual slumber? Is it possible that God loves you so much and that He wants you to be His with such intensity that He will stop at nothing to turn your heart to Him?

Sunday – June 18, 2017 Father’s Day Gen 50:22-26 “What Is A Truly Successful Man?”

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Genesis 42:1-3
Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, “Why are you staring at one another?” He said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.” Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt.”

In Genesis 42, God is awakening the sleeping consciences of Joseph’s brothers. They were a hard bunch. Years before, under the leadership of Simeon and Levi, they had deceived a village, slaughtered all the men and taken the women and children captive in retaliation for one man’s violating their sister. Reuben, the oldest, had slept with his father’s concubine. Judah had two sons so wicked that the Lord took their lives. All of the brothers, except Benjamin, had sold Joseph into slavery and then crushed their father’s heart by deceiving him into thinking that his son was dead.

The old advice, “Let your conscience be your guide” is only partly right. Certainly no one should violate his conscience, although we all have done so. But living by your conscience is not enough. The conscience must be shaped and nurtured by the Word of God, which reveals His holy standards of right and wrong. If we disregard the conscience long enough, or if we don’t train it properly, it can be seared to the point that we can commit atrocious crimes without a twinge. When we suppress our guilty conscience, God has to awaken it to bring us to repentance so that we can share His holiness.

Now it’s 22 years later. They’ve papered over their guilty consciences. Joseph was out of sight, out of mind. Life in Canaan was comfortable, although they were blending in with the paganism around them. To awaken the consciences of a tough bunch like this, God has to use some rather severe measures. God knows just how much each of us needs to be broken before Him, and He lovingly takes whatever means are necessary to do it. Until we are broken, He seems very harsh. But if we only knew, like Joseph’s heart toward his brothers, God’s heart toward us is always filled with compassion. He disciplines us as a loving father disciplines his children, that we might share His holiness.

If God’s hand seems harsh and heavy against you right now, you need to know that His purpose is to rescue you from sin and the character traits which ultimately would destroy you and damage many others. When you yield to Him and draw near in repentance, you will discover His great compassion and grace. Mark Twain’s character Huck Finn observed, “A man’s conscience takes up more room than all the rest of his insides.” If your conscience feels like that – if it is saying, “Ow!” – don’t turn away from God in denial of your sin. Turn to Him in genuine repentance and you will experience the sweet taste of His abundant grace.

Sunday – June 11, 2017 Genesis 41:1-57 “From the Pit to the Palace”

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Genesis 41:39-40
So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.”

Many Christians today have made an arbitrary and unbiblical distinction between the “secular” and the “spiritual,” or between “full-time” Christians and the “laity.” Do you notice that God has brought about the deliverance of His people not through Judah, from whom Messiah would come, and not through Levi, through whom the priestly class would originate, but through Joseph, a paper shuffler, a desk jockey, an administrator? One’s job is a matter of both gift and calling, not of spirituality.

As spiritual as he was, I can well imagine that many in our own day would have approached Joseph with words similar to these: “Joseph, as spiritual as you are, you should consider attending seminary and going into full-time ministry.” How could a secular ministry ever be fulfilling to a man as spiritual as Joseph? God did not raise up a preacher nor a priest, but an administrator to deliver His people from extinction. Let us beware of categorizing occupations in such a way as to make some more spiritual than others. Everyone is a full-time minister in the Scriptures, but some are called to labor in one sphere while others are called to another. Spirituality is totally independent of one’s occupation.

Joseph was not promoted by Pharaoh (in human terms) because he was spiritual, but because he was skillful and knowledgeable. Pharaoh recognized Joseph to be a man who had divine enablement, but he could have cared less who his “god” was. He was only concerned with finding a man who could do the job which needed to be done. Many Christians think that God is obligated to bless or that His people are bound to patronize people simply because they are Christians. During our recent elections it was sometimes implied that we should vote for a person solely on the basis of a profession of faith. When I go to a surgeon, I will go to the one who is the best, regardless of whether he (or she) is a pagan, an atheist, or a devout Christian. God is not restricted to working only through saints.

Many of us who are Christians are not very good at what we do, either because we are lazy, or we think that God is obliged to bless us only because we give testimony to our faith. Joseph’s testimony would have had little impact if he had proven to be wrong or had failed miserably to administrate the collection of grain. Let us enhance our testimony by doing well what we do. As the writer of the Proverbs 22:29 puts it: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” While I believe that God elevated Joseph because he trusted in God and obeyed, I am just as confident that Pharaoh elevated him because he was diligent and skillful in what he did. Piety without proficiency is folly. We praise God in our work as well as in our words. One without the other is useless.

Sunday – June 4, 2017 Genesis 40:1-23 “How to Get Out of the Pits”


 

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Genesis 40:8
We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”

The two years spent in Potiphar’s prison must have been the darkest days of Joseph’s life. These years are passed over by Moses in complete silence. We read in the book of Proverbs, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). If Joseph were ever in the dumps, it must have been now. Yet we are never told that Joseph suffered from the normal emotional reactions to his circumstances that are common to every man. Instead, we find in Genesis Chapter 40 a beautiful lesson in how to deal with despair and depression.

What enabled Joseph to endure his adverse circumstances was an absolute and unshakeable confidence in the fact that God was with him in his suffering. Twice in the previous chapter we have been told by Moses that God was with Joseph. In the first instance, we are not taken by surprise that God would be with Joseph on his way up in the organization of Potiphar (39:2-3) But we are told just as emphatically that God was with Joseph while he was in the pits (39:21-23). In Chapter 40 no one could have had the confidence Joseph did that God was able to interpret dreams through him, apart from an intimate walk with God in that dungeon. And no one could have convinced the butler of this unless there were evidence of it to be seen.

The tragedy of our day is that some Christians are teaching that if a Christian merely has enough faith, he will never need to suffer, for (they say) that the death of Christ provides deliverance from all adversity and affliction. While this doctrine may be considered as encouraging to the saint, it produces just the opposite result. Had Joseph believed that if he only had the faith he could have been instantly delivered from his troubles, his faith would have been devastated by the fact that his troubles did not go away. If freedom from pain and problems is solely dependent upon my faith, then when pain and problems come my way, there must be something wrong with my faith. Joseph would then have been questioning his own relationship with God, perhaps even the existence of God, at the very time when he should have been ministering to others and giving testimony to his faith. If our faith does not endure the storms of life, what good is it?

Fortunately, Joseph believed in a God who is not only all-wise and all-loving, but all-powerful. The God he served did place his servants in circumstances that were difficult and unpleasant, but He also gave a sufficient measure of His grace to endure it. The testimony of Joseph in these dark days is a reminder to every Christian that even the righteous will suffer and that such suffering is in the will of God to accomplish His purposes. No promise is more comforting to the suffering saint than this: “I will never leave you, nor will I ever desert you” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).

Sunday – May 21, 2017 Genesis 39:1-33 “From the Penthouse to Prison”

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Genesis 39:1-3
Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian.”

Each of us wants to succeed in life. But if we want true success, it’s crucial to work out a biblical definition of the term. Otherwise, you’ll be like the guy who climbed the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. You’ll waste your life pursuing the wrong goals and making wrong decisions. If our target is wrong, we will fail even if we hit it.

Our American culture defines success primarily in financial terms, throwing in, perhaps, the ideas of power, fame, and the elusive quality: “happiness.” As Christians, we can easily see the fallacy in defining success in those terms, and yet often we are influenced by our culture more than we care to admit. Many pastors succumb to the prevailing definition, thinking that if you pastor a large church, or gain national recognition through writing a book or speaking at important gatherings, you are successful. Christians reveal their skewed definition of success when they rush out to buy the latest story of some celebrity who has made a profession of faith, or when they parade famous athletes before the church as if they were spiritual authorities. So we need to bring into sharp focus the biblical answer to the question, “What is true success?”

Was Joseph more blessed by God or more successful when he was at the top of Potiphar’s household than when he was in the dungeon? They were just different phases of God’s training program in which He was preparing Joseph for the job He had for him under Pharaoh. Joseph was truly successful, whether he was in Potiphar’s house or in the prison, because God’s hand was on him. I believe that is the biblical definition of true success. True success is to have God’s blessing on your life. If you have God’s blessing, you have everything, even if you’re poor and unknown; if you lack God’s blessing, you ultimately will have nothing, even if you’re rich and famous now.

I want each of us to covet God’s blessing for yourself. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we all should say, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). You can live a comfortable Christian life, serve in the church and succeed in worldly terms. But if you lack God’s blessing on your life, you’ve missed true success. True success is when it can be said of us, whether we are in Potiphar’s house or in prison: The Lord is with that man or woman. Being blessed by God, we then will be used as His channels of blessing for the nations through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday – May 14, 2017 Mother’s Day

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Zechariah 8:4-5
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Old men and old women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each man with his staff in his hand because of age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets.‘”

If someone were to ask, “What does the kingdom of God look like?” we might think of heavenly choirs singing praises to the accompaniment of harps. There is no doubt that glorious worship will be an important part of God’s kingdom. But I would guess that few, if any, of us would ever think to describe His kingdom as our text does. This is not Zechariah’s personal idea of what the kingdom of God will look like, but the direct word of the Lord of hosts.

When the Lord dwells in our midst, we will treat the elderly and children properly. Sadly, those words do not describe a large segment of American society.  According to Focus on the Family, child abuse was the leading cause of death in children under the age of 15. Congressional studies have noted that abuse of the elderly occurs with a frequency only slightly less than child abuse. Most such abuse occurs within the confines of the home. Our streets, especially in large cities, are not safe, especially for women, children, or the elderly. Yet we continually comment on how different it had been 25 years before, when children used to play in their front yards, and no one ever gave a thought to any possibility of danger.

By way of contrast, the picture of our text is a city where the elderly are at rest and the children at play, unafraid of attack or harm. Since these two groups represent the most vulnerable in any society, if they are securely at rest, everyone else will also enjoy peace. How a society treats its elderly and its young children may be a good measure of how close that society is to the Lord. When He dwells in our midst, He describes the result as this scene of peaceful joy for the aged and the young. These verses imply that relationships are one of God’s most precious blessings.

While Mother’s Day may not be in the Bible, God’s love for the barren is. Defending those who cannot defend themselves is. Comforting the hurting is. Caring for orphans is. Loving one another is. I think Mother’s Day is a great thing and I certainly don’t want to rid the church of it, but it’s not the only ministry opportunity today. Churches can compete to be one more float in the happy mother’s day parade, or they could be the ones seeing the trampled, and lifting them up. God gives us this simple snapshot of a community where Jesus Christ dwells in their midst. The most vulnerable citizens, the elderly and the children, are treated with protection and respect. If God took a snapshot of your family or our church this past week, how would it compare?

Sunday – May 7, 2017 Genesis 38:1-30 “The Skeleton in Jacob’s Closet”

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Genesis 38:1-3
And it came about at that time, that Judah departed from his brothers and visited a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her. So she conceived and bore a son and he named him Er.”

The well-known writer, Ernest Hemingway, was raised in a solidly evangelical home in Oak Park, Illinois. His godly grandparents had graduated from Wheaton College. His grandfather, Anson Hemingway, shared a close friendship with the evangelist, D. L. Moody. Ernest’s physician father had wanted to be a missionary doctor, but his mother was too much of a city girl, and refused to go. But Ernest was raised in the church where he tithed his allowance, sang in the choir, and read completely through his King James Bible and passed a comprehensive exam on it.

After high school, he moved to Kansas City to become a reporter. He stopped going to church and began drifting from his upbringing. He enlisted in World War I, was wounded, and took to drinking to ease the pain. He married a worldly woman and moved to Paris to further his writing career. Totally alienated from his parents, eventually he would go through four wives. He was notorious for his drunkenness. In his late years, “he grew distant from everyone. He would not stand up straight and, he stopped communicating verbally.” A friend said that his “every hour was filled with the pain of being truly lost and alone.” Hemingway’s own description was, “I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into.” Finally, on a sunny Sunday morning in Idaho, at age 61, Ernest Hemingway put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. (Culled from, “Ernest Hemingway: Tragedy of an Evangelical Family,” by Daniel Pawley)

Hemingway’s tragic life did not have to go that direction. He made some bad choices: to distance himself from God’s people; to marry outside of the faith; to be conformed to this corrupt world. He could have availed himself of God’s grace and been conformed to Jesus Christ. His godly children and grandchildren could have followed in his steps. Instead, his beautiful, famous granddaughter Margaux took her own life in 1996. His descendants are far from the Lord.

We all are prone to corruption. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on [Christ]” (Isa. 53:6). We don’t have to be conformed to corruption. If we avail ourselves of God’s grace through the descendant of Judah and Tamar, the Lord Jesus Christ, He will keep us from the corruption of this evil world.

Sunday – April 30, 2017 Genesis 37:1-36 “Jacob, Joseph and Jealousy”

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Genesis 37:2
Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives.”

It is impossible to live in this world and not be hurt by someone else’s sin. When you have been wounded by someone else’s sin, you’ve probably wondered, “Where is God in all this? If God is all-powerful and loving, why is He allowing this terrible sin against me? If He is in control, why do wicked men literally get away with murder? If God is sovereign, why am I in the pits?”

Joseph could have asked that question. Due to his brothers’ sin, he was literally in a pit. From there things didn’t get better. His brothers didn’t kill him, as they originally planned, but they did sell their 17-year-old brother into slavery in a foreign land. As that caravan made its way south toward Egypt, perhaps passing within a few miles of Joseph’s home in Hebron, he must have been overwhelmed with grief and loneliness as he wondered if he would ever see his father again. He must have wrestled with fear, anger, and feelings of rejection as he thought about his brothers’ cruelty toward him. A skeptic might say, “See, God isn’t there when you need Him. If He cared about you, He would stop sinful men from carrying out their terrible plans.” But God’s sovereign providence runs like a strong river through this chapter, carrying even the sinful plans of man downstream in His overall purpose.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence of God’s sovereign hand in these events is the remarkable parallel between Joseph’s history and that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Joseph was loved by his father and sent to seek the welfare of his brethren, so Jesus was loved and sent by the Father. Just as Joseph’s brothers hated him because he spoke the truth about their sin and he convicted them of sin by his righteous life, so with Jesus. Just as Joseph’s brothers sold him for a few pieces of silver, so Jesus was betrayed for the same. Joseph’s brothers sought to get rid of him so that he would not reign over them, but their action resulted in that becoming true. Their rejection of him resulted in his later becoming their savior from the famine. Even so, the Jewish leaders did not want Jesus to reign over them. But their killing Him resulted in His becoming the Savior of all men, exalted in His resurrection as Lord of all at the right hand of the Father, just as Joseph was second under Pharaoh.

In various situations, we may feel that we’re in over our head. A terrible tragedy hits us out of nowhere. We lose our job, someone dies, someone wrongs us, and we feel as if we’re going to be swamped. But, the truth is, we’ve always been held up by the grace and love of our Heavenly Father. If He let us go, we’d drown even in the shallow end. If we’re in deeper waters, we’re still in His strong arms. God is never out of His depth, and so we can trust Him even when the waters seem deeper than we’ve ever been before. If you’re in the pits, remember, God is sovereign over all the details of your life. You can trust Him to work it all together for good! If you’ve never trusted Him before, why not begin now?

Sunday – April 23, 2017 Genesis 36:1-43 “A Successful Man Who Failed with God”

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Genesis 36:31
Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel.”

While Esau was out conquering the land of Edom, founding a nation, fathering kings, and making a great worldly success of himself, Jacob was quietly living in a land he didn’t even own, the land where his fathers had sojourned. While Esau’s descendants were mighty chieftains, famous in their day, Jacob’s descendants were down in Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. By Moses’ day (over 400 years later), Israel was a fledgling nation of slaves, recently escaped from Egypt, owning no land of their own. Edom was an established kingdom that had the power to refuse Israel passage over their land. But this tour through Genesis 36 shows us that God, not man, writes the final chapter of history. These men, successful by the world’s measure, passed off the scene and were soon forgotten as others clamored to take their place. Fame is a fleeting thing.

What really matters is recognition by God, not by this world. We live in a culture that worships fame. If an athlete, a musician, or an actor or actress becomes a Christian, we rush his life story into print and hustle him onto the TV talk shows. The guy may be a babe in Christ, who doesn’t know anything about the Bible, but we listen to his every word as if he’s a spiritual authority. But the recognition that counts will come soon, when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21, 23). In that day, real success and failure will be unveiled. Until that time, we should be careful to not make a big deal about earthly success or failure. Only God knows who is truly successful and who is not.

That’s why it is so important to ask yourself the question, “What am I living for?” What a shame to live your life like Esau, wondering, “What if …?” While we still live, we all have a choice: to join Jacob and his descendants in waiting patiently for God to fulfill His covenant promises to us, as we labor for His coming kingdom, or to look over at Esau, prospering in the world, and join him in the pursuit of secular success. If we succeed by worldly standards but fail with God, we have failed where it really matters. Whether we fail or succeed by worldly standards, if we succeed with God, we will have true and lasting success.

You are writing history. Every day you live, the choices you make, the things you say, and the actions you take are becoming a part of history. You are influencing the eternal destiny of others (one way or the other). How you conduct yourself in your marriage, with your children, in your work, and in the community is incredibly important! You are leaving a legacy for those who will follow in your steps. I urge you, please live your life with eternity in mind.

Resurrection Sunday – April 16, 2017 John 16:19-22 Celebrate the Risen Savior

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John 5:28-29
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

If anyone can speak with authority about life beyond the grave and God’s judgment, it is Jesus Christ. He claimed to be sent from God the Father and to be one in essence with the Father. Either He is God in human flesh, or else He is a first-class liar! Jesus reinforced this statement with many bold claims that would be blasphemous in the mouth of anyone other than God.

He claimed to do everything that He saw the Father doing (5:19)! He claimed that the Father showed the Son all that He is doing (5:20)! He claimed to have the power and authority to give life to whomever He wishes (5:21)! He claimed that the Father had given all authority to judge to the Son (5:22)! He claimed that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father (5:23). As if these claims were not stupendous enough, Jesus continued, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24). What mere man could make such claims? Even if Jesus were, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, the first and greatest of all created beings, He would have been blaspheming to make such claims to deity, if He were not fully God!

Maybe you have heard the expression, “going first class on the Titanic.” It describes those who foolishly devote themselves to seeking after pleasure in this life only. This world and all who live for it are headed for judgment. Going first class on a ship that is certain to go down is not wise! And so each of us needs to ask, “Is my hope of heaven based solely on the fact that God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for my sins, and that He raised Him from the dead? Because He has cleansed my heart through His mercy, do I now desire to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him?”

Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). Again, what an astounding claim! Jesus offers to give eternal life to those who seek it. The day is coming when you will be raised, either to life or to judgment. In light of who Jesus is, if I may speak plainly, you would be stupid to live for this life, but to neglect the free gift that will prepare you for the life to come.