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.

Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017 Genesis 35:1-29 “The Way Back Home”

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Genesis 35:1
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”

From outward appearances Jacob was not that far from God — only thirty miles from Bethel. He had also built an altar at Shechem, so there must have been some kind of religious observance there. Spiritually, however, Jacob was not near to God at all. Jacob told Esau he would meet him at Seir, but he went the opposite direction to Succoth, then to Shechem. Jacob somewhat passively accepted the rape of his daughter and even entered into an agreement whereby the purity of the covenant people of God would be lost. Jacob was preoccupied with prosperity and security at the expense of purity and piety. He is near Bethel but not near to the God of Bethel.

Jacob’s condition is not that different from many Christians in our own time. We may appear to be walking close to God while the opposite is true. We may still continue to preserve the forms and observe the rituals of piety, but, in fact, the reality is not there. Paul described this condition as “…holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power…” (II Timothy 3:5). We may be like those in the church at Ephesus, who have “lost their first love” (Revelation 2:4), or those at Laodicea who, due to their wealth and security, considered themselves to be doing well spiritually when they were destitute, cold, and indifferent (Revelation 3:15-17).

Christians seem to ever be seeking some new and exhilarating experience. They wish to go from one novel experience to another. In the Scriptures, however, very little of this happened either to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. What Jacob did at Bethel was hardly novel, and what God said to him at His second appearance was nothing new. That should tell us something. What was really important for Jacob was that he gained a deeper appreciation of what he had already experienced but not fully grasped. He needed nothing new, but a greater grasp of that which was old. It may be that the most acceptable manner in which we can serve God will not be by engaging in something untried before, but by “doing our first works,” by reminding ourselves of our covenant vows, and seeking anew that spiritual communion which is the life of our souls.

But perhaps I am assuming too much. It may be that I should not be urging you to “go back to Bethel” at all, particularly if you have never been there. If you have never come to the point of recognizing your sinfulness and impending peril, the point of recognizing that the only way to God’s heaven is through some means which God Himself provides, then you must come to God by faith for the first time. You must, in biblical terminology, be born again. I pray that you will do this now by simply acknowledging your sin and your utter inability to gain God’s favor or admission into His kingdom. The way has been provided in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who died in your place and Who offers His righteousness to all who will believe on Him alone for salvation.

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 – March 19, 2017 Genesis 32:1-32 “Unfinished Business”

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Genesis 32:9-10

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant…”

The prayer of Jacob in Genesis 32 is one of the greatest lessons in prayer in all of Scripture. Even before Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, Jacob gives us an outstanding template to approach our Heavenly Father in our time of need. Reflecting on Jacob’s prayer, I see four elements for us to implement in our prayer lives. First, Jacob addressed the Lord as the God of his “father Abraham” and his “father Isaac.” This is significant. Jacob was beginning to understand more fully his place in God’s divine plan. His prayer is the divine pattern of many biblical prayers — to acknowledge who God really is. When Nehemiah prayed about the sad condition of his people in Jerusalem, he lifted up his voice to God and said, “I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God” (Nehemiah 1:5a). He is a king to be honored and we must acknowledge Him as such.

Jacob prays on the basis of two things: God told him to return to his homeland, and God promised to bless him. He isn’t appealing to God on the basis of his own performance, but solely on the basis of God’s promises. Jacob stands on the promises of God because he knows that God keeps His Word. Many of our prayers fall short because there is none of God’s Word within them. This is because there is so little of God’s Word in us. Yet, both prayer and God’s Word are essential.

Now Jacob’s arrogant self-confidence is gone and he finally acknowledges that he is completely unworthy of God’s lovingkindness and faithfulness. This is a big step for Jacob. He has come to the point of recognizing that he stands by God’s mercy alone. Sometimes we have to hit bottom before we can see our true condition. Only as we recognize that we stand by mercy will we be prepared to act mercifully toward others. When you pray to the Lord, it is critical that you confess your sin, keep short accounts with Him, and acknowledge that you are undeserving and nothing without Him.

Finally, Jacob asks God to specifically save him from the hand of his brother. He doesn’t mince words; he’s clear and specific. Unlike his actions before going to live with Laban, when he took matters into his own hands to wrest away Isaac’s blessing from Esau, Jacob now realizes that he must depend totally on God in order to secure his own well-being. It is worth noting that Jacob requests God’s protection for himself and his family. He’s showing some semblance of concern for someone other than himself. We must follow Jacob’s example and learn to pray specific requests. When we do so, God tends to respond with specific answers. Today, will you make a commitment to pray for yourself and others in this way? Will you also pray first, instead of as a last resort? As you do, it will go well with you.

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 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.

Sunday – July 24, 2016 Genesis 6:9-8:22 “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, But God Is Not Snoring”

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Genesis 6:9
These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.”

To be faithful as a Christian in an evil day, you must learn to stand alone. You will repeatedly face pressure to violate your Christian standards and go along with the crowd. As a Christian teenager, you’re with some friends who are passing around a joint. What will you do when it comes to you? All the other kids are experimenting with sex and talking about their adventures. Will you go along with the crowd? Everyone has an illegal copy of an upcoming test. Will you join them in cheating?

Christian adults also face constant pressure to compromise their faith. At work, the boss expects you not to be totally honest in dealing with customers. On a business trip, your associates are all going to a porno movie and want you to join them. At family gatherings over the holidays, the rest of the family are gossiping about another family member. No one likes to be ridiculed or rejected. We all want to be liked and included. We don’t want others to think that Christians are a bunch of prudes who can’t enjoy life. So we’re easily tempted to go along with the crowd rather than to stand alone for Jesus Christ. But if we yield, we dishonor God and lose our distinctive witness for our Savior.

Let me put it plainly: If you don’t consistently spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, you don’t have a walk with God! If you don’t have a walk with God, you will not be able to stand alone as Noah did. You will be more conformed to this evil world than you are to Jesus Christ. Peter writes that just as the early world was destroyed by the flood, so “the present heavens and earth by [God’s] word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). His conclusion is, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (3:11).

If you worked for a company that you knew was going to be dissolved by bankruptcy, your attitude toward that company would change. You wouldn’t put your future hopes in it, because it has no future. If you heard that the government was going to shut down a bank because of insolvency, you wouldn’t rush to invest your money in that bank. God has said that this evil world is doomed. He has promised “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Like Noah, we must redirect everything in our lives – our time, our money, our goals – in light of God’s warning of judgment and His promise of deliverance in Christ. We must stand alone in this evil day by walking with God.