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 – 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 – 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.

Sunday – March 26, 2017 Genesis 33:1-20 “Time to Eat Crow”

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Genesis 33:18-20
Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.”

Nothing is more devastating than to be making progress in a particular area and then to be swallowed up by a sense of pride and complacency. The temptation is to rest upon our laurels and fail to press on to greater growth and maturity. The moment we feel secure, we are in the greatest danger. The moment we become aloof to the intensity of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged and the enemy who seeks to destroy us, we are beginning to fall into the enemy’s grasp.

This was true in the life of Jacob and is particularly relevant to 20th century Christians who live in America, for we have been lulled into a false sense of security by our comfortable and easy way of life. We have Social Security and Medicare, welfare and workman’s compensation. We have insurance protection against all kinds of losses. We never wake up in the morning wondering if we will eat or where we will sleep the next night. Christians can feel even more comfortable, for many believe that when things really begin to get severely bad (the great tribulation) they will not be around to face it anyway because of the rapture. In the midst of this kind of artificial security, we begin to live carelessly and find ourselves in danger of some serious spiritual defeats.

            Jacob was never in greater danger than at those times when he felt most secure. Jacob seemed to feel safest when his brother was out of sight, and yet it seems that Esau came with his armed men in order to provide an escort for him into Canaan. Jacob felt secure when his cattle could feed on the lush grass of Succoth rather than in the more sparse pastures of Bethel. He felt safer near a city of Canaanites than in the seclusion of some place more remote from civilization. But it was in Shechem that the rape of Dinah occurred, and it was there that Jacob could have been killed by the Canaanites.

The reason for this is really quite simple: we are most inclined to trust in God and obey Him when we sense that we are in grave danger and that our only hope is in God alone to save us. It is sad but true that all of us tend to slack up in our diligence and devotion when things are going along smoothly. We think that we can handle things ourselves when dangers seem distant and troubles are far removed, but when there is a crisis or a sudden overwhelming problem, then we rush to God for help. It is a foxhole kind of Christianity, but that is the way we are. Let us seek to learn from the life of Jacob how we can avoid complacency and over-confidence, which can be hazardous to our spiritual health. Let us seek to trust in God and obey Him at all times.

Sunday – February 12, 2017 Genesis 28:1-22 “How God Starts With Us”

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Genesis 28:20-22
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Frank W. Abagnale, in many ways, lived the life of Jacob.  At the age of 16, Abagnale’s parents divorced. Having to choose between his parents was so devastating; he ran away from home and became a con man that circled the globe living the high life by passing bad checks. One of his favorite schemes was impersonating airline pilots so that he could pass fake airline payroll checks as well as “ride the jump seat” for free, to anywhere in the world. From age 16-19, Abagnale also impersonated a medical doctor, a BYU sociology professor, and a lawyer. His autobiography is subtitled “the true story of a real fake.” His life is so fascinating that Steven Spielberg turned it into the film Catch Me if You Can.  In the end, an FBI agent caught Abagnale. Since then he serves as a world-renowned consultant and lectures at the FBI’s Financial Crimes Unit.

In Genesis 28, Jacob runs away from home. The plot to receive the blessing from Isaac was a great success…in one sense. However, in another sense it was a terrible failure. Jacob was forced to leave home to escape being killed by his furious brother. So Jacob gets the blessing but he has to leave the inheritance with Esau. He is a runaway. Fortunately for Jacob, and for us, God loves to chase down runaways. This is God’s defining feature—He comes to rebellious people to be with them and to save them. In fact, when God finally chose to become a person [Jesus], He came to “seek and to save the lost”.

At some point in time, all of us must claim the great promises of God for ourselves and step out in faith, making our own commitment to Him. God has no grandchildren! You may be able to relate to Jacob. Like Jacob, you may have grown up in a Christian home; however, you’ve spent your fair share of time running away from God. Like Jacob, you have to find your own faith. Most people leave the church and then come back when they have children, with the hope that their children get religion.

The assurance of God’s presence should bring about, in every believer, the same response of worship and confidence it prompted in Jacob. This is the message from the beginning: God, by grace, visits His people and promises them protection and provision so that they might be a blessing to others. They in turn were to respond in faith, fearing Him, worshipping Him, offering to Him, vowing to Him, and making memorials for future worshippers at such places.

Sunday – February 5, 2017 Genesis 27:1-46 “Working Like the Devil, Serving the Lord”

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Genesis 27:15-17
Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob.

Frank Sinatra’s well-known song, “I Did It My Way,” is the anthem of many who think that is the life well lived. The words of the song state plainly that his glory was all about how he “did it my way.” A life lived “my way” is true of every person who does not submit his life to Jesus Christ. Most people just aren’t as open as Sinatra in stating the controlling force of their lives.

In Genesis 27, four people sing Sinatra’s song. Isaac does things his way by trying to bestow the family blessing on Esau, in opposition to God’s revealed will. Esau tries to take back what he had already sold to his brother Jacob. When he is foiled, he plans to kill his brother. Rebekah deceives her aging husband into giving the blessing to her favorite son, Jacob. And Jacob lies to his father and outsmarts his brother. Rebekah and Jacob could argue that they were only trying to bring about the will of God, since God had told Rebekah that her older son would serve the younger. But I’m not persuaded by those who attribute high motives to Rebekah and Jacob. I think that what you have here are four self-centered people seeking their own advantage. They all did it their way, not God’s way. In the end they all came up empty and paid a high price for their selfishness.

Every person must have as a theme song in life either “I Did It My Way” or “I Did It God’s Way.” You would think that the lines would be clearly drawn: Every person outside of Christ would sing, “I Did It My Way” while every Christian would sing, “I Did It God’s Way.” But I find that many who profess to believe in Christ are really just living for themselves, often using God as the means to self-fulfillment. But the genuine Christian life is a matter of God confronting our self-centeredness and enthroning Christ as Lord in our hearts. While the process takes a lifetime, I question whether the person who is not involved in the process of dying to self is truly a child of God.

Many Christians are telling hurting people, “Assert yourself. Stand up for your rights. Don’t be codependent. You’ve got a right to some happiness in life, so go for it.” But God’s Word is clear: If you seek your own way, you won’t get what you want and you’ll pay a high price in family conflict. If you’ll die to your way and seek God’s way, He will give you the desires of your heart. You’ve got to decide which will be your theme song: “I did it my way,” or, “I did it God’s way?”

Sunday – January 29, 2017 Genesis 26:1-35 “Walking in Dad’s Footsteps”

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Genesis 26:3-4
Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…”

Have you ever felt that God couldn’t use you to serve Him because you were just too ordinary? One reason the story of Isaac is in the Bible is to show us how God can use an ordinary person. Isaac was the ordinary son of a famous father, and the ordinary father of a famous son. Alexander Maclaren began a sermon on Isaac by noting, “The salient feature of Isaac’s life is that it has no salient features.” Although he lived longer than Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph, Isaac’s life is pretty much covered in one chapter whose most exciting feature is some squabbles over some wells.

Isaac was kind of blah. He wasn’t bold like his father Abraham, who made a daring raid against the kings of the east. He wasn’t shrewd like his son, Jacob, or a gifted leader like his grandson, Joseph. Yet God used him to work out His covenant promises. His life shows us that there’s hope in the Lord for all us ordinary people! Moses wrote Genesis 26 mainly to show the nation Israel how God was faithfully working out His covenant promises. Isaac lagged behind God, even as his son Jacob tended to run ahead of God. Yet in spite of Isaac’s slowness—and even sin—God blessed him because of His covenant with Abraham. Abraham’s descendants would be blessed because of their relationship to him; but, like Isaac, they had to grow in faith and obedience.

It was not an instant process. Frankly, I’m not sure how much Isaac understood concerning God’s plan for history. It would be 2,000 years before the Savior would be born as the descendant of Abraham. But through it all, God was steadily moving history forward according to His sovereign plan, using a bunch of ordinary people to bring it all about. Today, we need to see ourselves in the stream of what God is doing in history. He has blessed us, not just so that we’ll be blessed, but so that we can become a blessing to others.

He wants us, ordinary though we are, to be His channel for taking the message of the Savior to all nations. That sounds glorious, but all too often it involves hassles as mundane as digging wells and contending with aggressive people. God didn’t give the land to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob in one magic swoop of His divine wand. Those to whom Moses was writing had to go through the battles of taking Canaan bit by bit. And we have to struggle inch by inch, hassle by hassle, in taking God’s message of salvation. So remember to view the hassles of your life in light of God’s bigger plan for history. If you’ll obey Him, He will use those everyday problems that you, His ordinary child, go through, to accomplish His purpose of blessing all nations.

Sunday – January 1, 2017 “God’s Inefficient Use of Time & People” Ecclesiastes 9:10-18

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Haggai 1:7-9
Thus says the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified, says the Lord. You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts, because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.”

Every day you exchange a day of your life for something. It’s as if at the start of life each of us were issued a certain number of coins. They’re hidden inside a large machine so that we don’t know how many we were issued or how many we have left. Each day, the machine issues us a new coin. It may be the last coin we get, or we may get many more. All we know is that the average person in America gets between 70 and 80 years’ worth, but some get far less; a few may get more.

You take each day’s coin and exchange it for something: a day at work or school, shopping, church, leisure, or whatever. Once spent, you can never get the coins back to spend them differently. The art of living wisely is largely a matter of spending your coins on the things that really matter in light of eternity and not frivolously wasting them. Living wisely is difficult because often the choice is not between the bad and the good, but between the good and the best.

Meanwhile, life continues to move forward. You started a career and a family. You had bills to pay and other demands on your time. Church and the Lord’s work drifted into the background. You still attend church as often as you can, but it has become a slice of life, not the center. You tell yourself that you just don’t have time to serve as you used to. Without deliberately rebelling against God, you have drifted into putting your house above God’s house. When your conscience nags, you have reasons to explain why things are this way.

Twice in Haggai 1 the Lord tells the people, “Consider your ways”. That means to stop long enough in your busy schedule to evaluate your life in the light of God’s Word and fearing Him. How are you spending your time? These people had plenty of time for themselves, but they didn’t have time for God. How are you spending your money, which is really God’s money? These folks claimed that they had to get their own houses built first, and then they could build God’s house. But that was backwards. What are your goals? What is it that you’re aiming at in life? If you live to an old age, what do you want to look back on as far as accomplishments? If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God truly in first place, you experience a new awareness of His presence. That is true blessing!

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

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

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

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

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

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