Sunday – December 17, 2017 Gospel of Luke – “Why Not Call Him Zach Jr?” Luke 1:57-80

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Luke 1:67-69
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant…”

Suppose that you had just visited Niagara Falls, marveling at the massive power of all that water gushing over the falls. So you decided to see what the river looked like about a mile upstream. As you’re there, you see a guy in a rowboat, floating downstream toward the falls, oblivious to any danger. You yell at him, waving your arms to no avail – he is oblivious to the danger that waits ahead. If there was a speedboat moored nearby, you could jump in and race out to where he was and throw him a lifeline. But he may not even take it, because obviously, he is not aware that he is in any danger. He’s just cruising down the river, and to take your lifeline would interrupt his leisurely cruise.

The guy in the rowboat represents many in our culture today. Many of them are in church on a given Sunday. They’re cruising down the river of life, fairly contented with how things are going. But they’re oblivious to the fact that God’s terrible judgment lies just ahead. They think it only applies to people who aren’t in a good boat like they’re in. They’re in the rowboat of their own good deeds, and they figure that it will carry them through what they think may be a few ripples of the judgment. So any warnings you shout to them, or any efforts to throw them the lifeline of salvation, are ignored. They don’t see their desperate need of salvation, and so they don’t respond with gratitude and relief to the tender mercy of God in sending the Savior.

Zacharias could easily have been the man in the rowboat. He was a faithful Jewish man who performed his duty as a priest. He and his wife kept the Lord’s commandments and ordinances (Luke 1:6). He wasn’t a godless man, like the pagan Romans and he wasn’t a religious hypocrite, like the profane Herod who reigned over the land. Zacharias easily could have thought of himself as a man who was secure in the rowboat of his own good works, with nothing to fear from God’s judgment. But, thankfully, Zacharias did not see himself that way. He knew that the falls were rapidly approaching, and he saw himself helplessly drifting toward them with increasing speed. And so, when God revealed to him that he would have a son who would be the forerunner of the Savior, Zacharias broke forth in this beautiful psalm of praise to God for His great mercy in sending the Savior who had been promised centuries before.

Have you personally experienced the tender mercy of God by receiving the forgiveness of sins He offers through the Lord Jesus Christ? Has the Holy Spirit opened your eyes to your desperate situation outside of Christ? You sit in darkness and the shadow of death, awaiting God’s awful judgment. You can do nothing to save yourself. But God has done it all. In His tender mercy, He offers you a full pardon if you will receive Jesus Christ.

Sunday – August 20, 2017 Genesis 48:1-22 “The View from the Graveyard”

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Genesis 48:21-22
Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. And I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow

God’s covenant of faithfulness is the theme that permeates Jacob’s testimony in this chapter. Seventeen years before he had complained to Pharaoh, “Few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (47:9). But now, Jacob has mellowed. As he takes a final look backward at his life, he remembers how God appeared to him at Bethel as he fled from his brother. Jacob had deceived his father and wronged his brother. God would have been just in finding someone else to use in accom­plishing His purpose. But He appeared to Jacob and affirmed the covenant promised to him as he fled from his brother to his uncle’s home in Paddan Aram.

Twenty years later, Jacob wasn’t much farther along. He had out-swindled his uncle Laban and headed back to Canaan. He had settled outside of the land without seeking God’s direction. Then his sons deceived and murdered a whole town because one young man there had raped their sister. But God appeared a second time to Jacob at Bethel and assured him that the promises were still good.

Even in Jacob’s great time of sorrow, when Rachel died, God’s comfort had been real. The pain of that loss was still with the old man as he reminisced here (48:7). But God had been with him. Then the hammer blow of Joseph’s loss had hit the grieving man. He had thought that he would never see his son again. He went through years of confusion, wondering how the loss of his one son who seemed to follow the Lord could fit in with the promises of God. But now, at the end of his journey, God had proved Himself faithful, as Jacob held in his arms not only Joseph, but Joseph’s two sons. And so as he blesses his grandsons, Jacob tells them how God has been his shepherd all his life to that day and how God will be with them (48:15, 21).

When others look at your life, are they inclined to say, “Your God is sure faithful, isn’t He”? Or, would they say, “Your God must not be very good, because you are always complaining about the treatment you receive”? Complainers tell others something untrue about God, namely that He isn’t faithful. People are skilled in reading between the lines of our lives. If we profess to know the Lord, but our lives are a constant complaint, they put it together and make a mental note that they don’t want anything to do with our God. We’ve got to tell them, by our words and our attitudes, that God is faithful, even through the hard times.

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 – March 12, 2017 Genesis 31:17-55 “Between a Rock & Hard Place”

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Genesis 31:42
“If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night.”

Ethics is the difference between legality and morality. We live in a day when Christians and non-Christians alike think that whatever is legal is legitimate Christian activity. We, like Jacob, have our own pole-peeling and wheeling and dealing, which we think God is obliged to bless. No wonder the world is legalizing homosexual marriage and the right to government paid abortion. To them, legality is morality so if it isn’t illegal, it is moral.

Laban had lived in close association with Jacob for twenty years, and he was convinced of Jacob’s lack of integrity. Laban believed that Jacob stole his goods and that Jacob had underhandedly gotten possession of his flocks. Does this sound like a man who was convinced that Jacob was a godly man? And yet Jacob seems to be convinced of his own integrity. He is certain that God is on his side because of his uprightness. How could Jacob have been so mistaken? I have come to believe that the answer is that Jacob was a legalist. Jacob prided himself on being a man who kept the letter of the law. Never, to his knowledge at least, had he ever broken his word. He had made a deal with Laban, and he had always lived up to it. Oh, he had peeled those poles all right, but that was not a breach of their agreement.

But here is the heart of the error of legalism, for legalism equates morality with legality. It believes that righteousness and the keeping of the law are one and the same thing. A man may have no system of ethics whatever, but so long as he does not break the law, he feels morally pure. He feels confident of the approval and blessing of God. Legalism is sinful because men love to set human standards which, if they are kept, produce a man’s righteousness. Christian liberty views the standard for our thoughts and actions to be our Lord Himself, for it is to His image that we are being conformed (Romans 8:29).

The Bible does draw lines, clear lines at times. There are absolutes, and there are rules. But in addition to these, perhaps I should say above all these, is another standard of conduct which we shall call ethics or convictions. Many Christians seem to have too few of these, and yet this is what sets a true Christian apart in the eyes of the world. How many of us are viewed by the world as Jacob was by Laban? How many of us have convictions that cause us to avoid certain practices, even if they are legal? Christian ethics should be so high that legalistic rules are never necessary, at least for those who are righteous.

Sunday – December 25, 2016 Christmas Day – Celebrate the Savior’s Birth Service

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Luke 2:13-14
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Christmas is so much more than a Bible story. It is more than a history lesson. It is more than songs, lights, parties, and pretty presents under a tree. Christmas is more than just a yearly holiday celebration. Christmas represents not only the birth of the King of Kings but the incarnation of the God man. Leaving the eternal and taking on the form of a man, Jesus stepped out of Eternity and into time. He took on a temporal life so that He could invite us to have an eternal one.

Who, but the King who defines Himself as love, would be willing to be born in a stable so that the Shepherds who received a heavenly invitation to come and celebrate His birth would feel right at home when they arrived? The message of the angels was that God had sent Peace on Earth, The Prince of Peace. God blessed mankind with good will. Through Christ God’s good will was done on earth as it is in Heaven.

We must remind each other and teach our children these basic truths in such a way that when we are opening those pretty packages under our tree, we will remember that on that first Christmas God wrapped His Son in human flesh as a gift of salvation to all mankind. The truth of God’s unbelievable love should be so much a part of our Advent lessons that as we buy presents for those we love, we understand that Christmas is about loving our enemies too. That first Christmas was God giving the most important gift to a world at war with Him and His ways. But even when we were at war with God, He sent His Son to pay the price of our peace (Romans 5:10). As we sing the Christmas Carols of peace on earth, our songs remind the world Christmas is when God announced Peace on Earth by sending us the Prince of Peace to bring peace between man and God. “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

It is one thing to read the story of Christmas. It is another thing to understand how to live it. I pray that God will help each person here this morning share the Christ of Christmas in such a way that He will be well remembered throughout the season. He is worth remembering; truly Jesus is the reason for the season!

Sunday – November 6, 2016 Genesis 19:1-38 “From Councilman to Caveman”

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Genesis 19:31-34
Then the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him that we may preserve our family through our father.” So they made their father drink wine that night, and the firstborn went in and lay with her father; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.”

Whenever you hear of professing Christians who have fallen into gross sin, you ask yourself, “How did they ever get to this low-level?” If the people involved had made no claim of being Christians, it would be one thing. But when they claim to know God and then commit the worst kind of sins imaginable, you wonder what’s going on.

Lot’s story is like that. If Lot were not a believer, you would say, “That’s the way this evil world is.” But Peter emphasizes that Lot was a righteous man (2 Pet. 2:7-8). So when you read about his two daughters getting him drunk and committing incest with him, you wonder how a believer could get to that low point. Lot’s terrible sin should make us realize that just being a believer isn’t enough. Christians can fall into sins that are just as bad as those committed by unbelievers. Though Lot was a believer, he failed miserably with God and as a father. I want to examine why, so that none of us will fail the Lord and our families as Lot did.

The reason Lot failed is illustrated by an event that happened on June 5, 1976. On that day, under clear skies, without warning, the massive Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho collapsed, sending a torrent of water surging into the Snake River basin. There was extensive property damage and loss of life. It seemed to happen so quickly. Some workers on the dam barely had time to run for their lives. But it really didn’t happen suddenly. Beneath the water line, a hidden fault had been gradually weakening the entire structure. It started with just a tiny bit of erosion. But by the time it was detected, it was too late. No one had seen the little flaw; no one got hurt by it. But everyone saw the big collapse, and many were hurt.

That’s what happened to Lot. He allowed little sins in his life to go unchecked. They weren’t major, shocking kinds of sins – just “little” sins. I’m using the words “little” and “big” from the human perspective. By little sins I mean sins that people don’t consider serious, sins that we all tend to tolerate. By big sins, I mean sins like murder, adultery, incest, child abuse – sins that raise eyebrows and make us recoil in shock, sins that destroy families and reputations, leaving a trail of destruction. With Lot, the little sins were steadily eroding his moral character, until finally the sordid incident recorded here burst the dam. When little sins to go unchecked, they result in big sins.

Sunday – October 23, 2016 Genesis 18:1-33 “Marks of Maturity”

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Genesis 18:23-26
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”

One of the facts that humans have yet to master is that we cannot outperform God. In the movie Patch Adams, the main character (portrayed by Robin Williams) is an unconventional medical student who believes that humor and compassion are the most important tools of the doctor’s trade. His idealism is shattered when his girlfriend, who has helped him start a free clinic based on these principles, is murdered by one of the psychotic patients. As Patch stands on a high cliff pondering suicide, he has the following monologue with God: So answer me please — tell me what You’re doing…You can create man, man suffers enormous amounts of pain; man dies. Maybe You should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day — maybe You should have spent that day on compassion. As he looks down into the valley far below, again considering the possibility of jumping, he says, tragically, “You know what? You’re not worth it.”

These same sentiments resound like an incessant gong throughout our society. Talk to any person on the street and you will likely hear doubts about the fairness of God doing this or that. In today’s climate of tolerance, many reject the God of the Bible as an ogre. Sadly, many Christians unknowingly do the same. Whenever we raise questions about God’s justice we suggest, as Patch Adams did, that we would be more just if given the chance. When we question God’s love we imply that we can be more loving. When we question His grace, His mercy, His patience — name whatever attribute you will — if we think we can do them better than God, we have a defective view of God.

A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So what comes to your mind when you think about God? Do you question Him? Do you doubt His love for you? Or do you trust Him and find your confidence in Him? Wherever you fall on this scale, God wants to increase your view of Him because right Christian living comes out of right Christian thinking.

While it was comforting to have scriptures to comfort us, we will not find a text to answer our every question. God is far greater than all that is revealed about Him in Scripture. The Judge of all the earth will deal justly. That was our confidence. Have you lost a loved one about whose salvation you are doubtful? Are there problems and circumstances you cannot understand? Then rest in this: our God is all powerful; nothing is impossible with Him. And furthermore, this power is always employed in justice, truth, mercy, and love. What a comfort! What an encouragement to pray!

Sunday – August 28, 2016 Genesis 11:27-12:9 “The Great Adventure”

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Genesis 12:1-3
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you, and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 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.”

We don’t know much about most of Shem’s descendants but we do know something about Terah, Abraham’s father. In Joshua 24:2 the Lord says, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.” Abraham came from a pagan family, and was probably an idolater himself when God called him. In fact, even three generations later, when Rachel stole her father’s household gods, the family was still into idolatry.

God’s sovereign choice never depends on human merit. He didn’t look down from heaven and say, “There’s a good man; I’ll choose him.” Rather, God only chooses and calls sinners to Himself. Abraham was a sinner. God chose him simply because of grace, apart from anything God foresaw in Abraham. If God chose Abraham because He foresaw that Abraham would believe, then Abraham could boast in his faith as the reason God chose him. But salvation, from start to finish, is all from God, not at all from man.

  1. H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the past century, was once preaching to a Methodist congregation. During the first part of his sermon, the people were nodding in agreement and saying, “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” Then Spurgeon came to the doctrine of election and noticed a distinct change in the mood of his audience. (Methodists do not accept that doctrine.) So he proceeded to put it to them this way. He asked, “Is there any difference between you and others who have not been converted?” They responded, “Yes, glory to God! There is a difference.” Then Spurgeon asked, “Who has made the difference, yourself or God?” “The Lord,” they said. Spurgeon shot back, “Yes, and that is the doctrine of election; that if there be a difference, the Lord made the difference.”

The point is, God didn’t choose Abraham because he was a good man. He chose Abraham to demonstrate His grace. He doesn’t choose anyone because they deserve it. He only chooses sinners who deserve His judgment. And while that’s a blow to our sinful pride, it is actually very good news. It means that you cannot do anything to qualify yourself for God’s salvation. You can only come to God confessing your sin and asking for His mercy, and He will grant it because He is a merciful God. God’s plan of salvation involves His choice according to His grace.

Sunday – August 14, 2016 Genesis 10:1- 11:9 “The Spread of the Nations”

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Genesis 11:4
They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

During the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted a pastoral letter condemning the U.S policy. One sentence read: “Today the destructive potential of the nuclear powers threatens the sovereignty of God over the world he has brought into being” Imagine! God’s sovereignty over His creation threatened by the plans and programs of world leaders, as if God were sitting in heaven, wringing His hands, crying, “What can I do! I never knew they’d build the bomb!” The bottom line is that if God’s sovereignty is threatened by what man does, then man, not God, is sovereign.

For centuries, men have deluded themselves by thinking they could determine their destinies apart from God. As William Ernest Henley boasted in his poem, “Invictus,” “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Proud men think that they can call the shots. What they forget is that one little virus, one diagnosis from their doctor, one “freak” accident, is all it takes to end their proud plans. For people who desire to be masters of our fate, we are puny gods.

Every generation seems to builds towers. Whether they are actual skyscrapers or mega corporations that circle the globe, the idea is the same—to be strong and leave their footprint in history. The university professor who dismisses God without a second thought has placed his intellect on the throne instead of God. But human intelligence is woefully inadequate to be our god. Over and over again the intelligence of man has been supplanted by more sophisticated people and their theories of the world. If man’s intelligence can be supplanted by other men’s intelligence, how inadequate is it to try to displace God’s intelligence? You cannot build your own tower in your heart or in your head and replace God by doing it. God will not be subject to our folly.

The Bible declares, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord” (Prov. 21:30). Concerning world rulers, a later king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was humbled by God until he learned that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes” (Dan. 4:17, 25). As the psalmist expressed God’s response to proud kings who challenge His rule, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps. 2:4). Concerning the plans of proud man, the Bible declares, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand” (Prov. 19:21). These verses are a commentary on Genesis 11:1-9, where we find proud man planning to thwart the purpose of God.