That’s No Fish Story

I like to go fishing. And the most enduring memories I have is when I have caught some BIG
fish! In fact, I’ve got pictures!………at least I think I do. (Somewhere, I know I have pictures!)
Over the years, I’ve caught two good size tiger muskies, several large northerns, and a decent
number of good size Largemouth Bass – not to mention some jumbo panfish.
There’s nothing like hooking into a big fish – the battle with the mysterious monster as it dives
deeper, the tension of keeping the fish hooked without breaking the line, and the excitement as
the fish is pulled in close and you get a glimpse, and the exhilaration when the lunker is landed.
Oh, there’s nothing like it! And the only thing that might be actually better is the joy of telling the
story. And for all you non-fisherpeople out there, that is exactly why we fisherpeople love fish
stories! And so it should be no wonder that the size of the fish tends to grow with the number of
times we tell the stories.
And that’s where we get the proverbial phrase, “That sounds like a fish story!” To translate:
“That story sounds exaggerated at best, and pure fiction at worst.”
Let me clearly proclaim: The Book of Jonah is no fish story. Along with Noah and the Ark, the
story of the prophet Jonah in the Bible is perhaps the book most commonly produced as a
children’s book, complete with illustrations. And over the course of history, it’s one of the most
commonly doubted stories of the Bible. The tale of the reluctant prophet and his 3 night stay in
the belly of the fish has produced endless speculation as well as skepticism.
But according to Jesus, it was no fish story at all. Not only did Jesus regard the tale of Jonah as
a historical reality, he regarded it as a precursor that pointed to the greatest moment in history –
his own resurrection.
History tells us that the blubber of whales produced oils for 18th century lamps to light up dark
places. Thousands of these mammals were hunted, making some very wealthy. But their value
pales in comparison to the treasure that we have in the Biblical book of Jonah. The truth that
we can harvest from it produces eternal results and present profit for our walk with God. Join us
as I preach through this little book that is packed with wisdom.
Your Partner in the Gospel,
Pastor Ryan Sarenpa
God is Good, All the Time!


Here, There & Everywhere

The Sunday School teacher asked, “Where is God?”

A little girl raised her hand excitedly. “I know! God is in heaven!!

But a young boy disagreed, saying, “God is everywhere!”

So which is right? They both are. King David understood this well. In a beautiful psalm about the reality of God, he wrote: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:7-10)

The fact of the matter is that heaven is the dwelling place of God, and God is everywhere. Heaven is like another dimension, unseen but very real. So real, in fact, that it’s more real than anything else! Jesus was aware of this all the time.

 Is this Good News to you? It might not be. Jonah didn’t want it to be this way. He wanted to run away from God! So he got on a ship headed for a distant destination. But it didn’t work, and it took a few days in the belly of a big fish for him to change his mind. The fact of the matter is that while we can’t run away from God, we can ignore him. But God Is not distractible, nor is he detained or detached.

But it can be Good News for you! God is here, there, and everywhere. And he’s not only watching, he’s listening. Here’s what God says:

“The same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10: 12-13)

We invite you to join us here at Warren Covenant for worship. I’m preaching a series entitled, “Here, There and Everywhere.”

 Your Partner in the Gospel,

Pastor Ryan

God is Good, All the Time


Real Jesus: Real Church for the Real World

You have an overactive imagination! Have you ever found yourself saying (or at least
thinking) that? Did you know that there is actually something called an “overactive
imagination disorder?” Neither did I. But here’s the definition: Overactive imagination
disorder is when you are so lost in your imagination that it begins to feel real. In other
words, you become captivated by a world of unreality. That’s actually a very real
temptation in the world today.
From video games to movies to artificial intelligence to virtual reality to the seemingly
unlimited proliferation of pornography, it seems like the combination of technology and
human imagination is producing more and more unreality. It’s everywhere, and we all
partake of it to some degree. Some of it’s really beneficial. But I think we can all agree
that this “unreality” created by our technology can be really distracting, deceptive, and it
can even be deadly.
Recently, there was a report from the Centers for Disease Control declaring a mental
health epidemic. A CDC spokeswoman bluntly stated, “young people”— especially young
women — “are in crisis.” An article in The New York Times summarized, “Nearly three in
five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021 … and one in three girls seriously
considered attempting suicide.” Thankfully, there’s an antidote to the danger of unreality.
In fact, it’s one of the meanings of Easter. The Bible communicates it clearly.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the
doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and
said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The
disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19-20)
The first and most obvious thing about this – and almost all – of Jesus’ post-resurrection
appearances is that Jesus takes pains to prove that he is real. He’s not a ghost, not a
vision, not a result of the disciples’ powerful emotions. Here, he shows them his hands
and side. He invites Thomas to touch them. He cooks breakfast and he eats fish. And
he has two-sided conversations. Let me plainly state the obvious: JESUS IS REAL.
The Good News of Easter is that Jesus is a Real Savior for Real People who commands
us to live Real lives of faith and love in the Real World so that we can make a real
difference. Centuries of Christianity have borne this out. From hospitals to universities,
from slavery to freedom, from marginalization to justice, and from hatred to love, and
most importantly from hell to heaven, the Real Jesus makes a Real difference in the
lives of real people.
For the next several weeks, I’m going to challenge you to exercise your God-given
imaginations as we immerse ourselves in the reality of the Risen Christ. The Sermon
Series is called, “The Real Jesus: Real Church for the Real World.” I’m going to be
reminding us of our church vision and mission. I invite you to join us!
Pastor Ryan
God is Good, All the Time!


Celebrate the Substitute!

Let’s name an unsung hero: The substitute teacher.  Suddenly thrust in front of an unfamiliar class, the substitute teacher faces a tall task.  Working on short notice with perhaps a subject they have little knowledge of, the substitute has many challenges.  Let’s be thankful for the work that they do for our schools and our students.
We are in the midst of Holy Week.  From Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Christians are engaged in the solemn yet joyful remembrance of the work of the greatest substitute in all of history.  Now, while Jesus was certainly renowned as a teacher, this act of substitution was not in the place of an absent instructor in the setting of a classroom.
Instead, this was an act of substitution for everyone.  Jesus, the King of Kings, had come to Jerusalem to do for us that which we could not do for ourselves.  He came to offer himself on our behalf so that we might be forgiven.  
Why was this substitution needed? Because we as humans have substituted ourselves in the place of God.  Each and every one of us has in effect said to God, “My will be done.”  In other words, we have put ourselves in the place of God.  That’s the essence of sin.  And our sins put us in debt to God, because we have unjustly withheld that which is due Him.
But, thanks be to God, Jesus said, “Thy will be done.”  During Holy, justice was upheld because the debt of our sins was not only forgiven, but they were paid for.  On Good Friday, Jesus offered himself in our place.  On Easter Sunday, the tomb was found empty!  Christ arose!  This was God’s way of saying: PAID IN FULL!
And we each can receive the benefit of Holy Week in one and the same way: through faith.  Through admitting our indebtedness, turning from our sins, and turning toward the King of Kings.  Put your trust in Jesus and receive his gift!
This Holy Week, let’s not allow the greatest substitute ever to be an unsung hero.  We invite you to join us, and congregate as God’s people to sing his praise and offer him our thanks!
Pastor Ryan

Warren Covenant Church

God is Good, All the Time!


Redemptive Release

Forgiveness can be a controversial subject, for a large number of reasons.  History shows that when marginalized people forgive the wrongdoings of those in power, they often remain oppressed.  That’s evident in the case of those who have been enslaved, abused women, and religious minorities.  In these cases, forgiveness seems to enable injustice.
All the same, a world where the restorative presence of forgiveness is absent is a world marked by violence, alienation, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness.  Historical examples range from the deadly feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys to the widespread failure of punitive justice to help those addicted to illegal substances.
So it seems that while we know that forgiveness is necessary for peace and flourishing, it can also be a practice that can actually cause evil to continue.  So what’s the answer to this apparent conundrum?
The answer is The Gospel.  The forgiveness that begins with the vertical dimension – man’s relationship to God – is the key to putting forgiveness into practice in our human relationships.  The key to understanding the power of forgiveness is to understand its link to repentance.
The Gospel message is that when a sinner admits his guilt and turns away from their Sin and turns toward God, they are freely and fully forgiven.  One way of understanding forgiveness is to link it to the concept of debt.  When we are forgiven of a debt, those to whom we owe money no longer hold us accountable to pay it off.  The cost of the debt is absorbed by the lender and they are on even terms.  When God forgives sin, he no longer holds that sin against the sinner.  God absorbs the cost of the sin in himself – this is one of the things that happened on the Cross of Christ.  This then creates a reconciled relationship, one in which they can flourish in peace and purpose.  This is the “Release” of forgiveness.
But that same “release” is “redemptive.”  In God’s forgiveness of our sin, the act of forgiveness actually takes what was harmful and turns it to good use, making it redemptive.  It frees us from the oppressiveness of guilt, shame, and denial and compels us to pursue love, peace, and goodwill.  Let me give you one example.
When I was in Massachusetts, I met a man whose son had been brutally murdered in a senseless act of violence.  The murderer was tried and convicted.  Prior to the incident, the father had come to faith in Christ when he realized the magnitude of his own sins and sought God’s forgiveness.  So in the face of this tragic loss, the father pursued a reconciliation with his son’s murderer.  Visiting him in prison, he forged a relationship and forgiveness was requested and granted.  Today the man once convicted of murder is a productive member of society and regularly gives back.
This is an example of redemptive release.  Godly forgiveness can be a mighty force for good.  It can not only prevent the spread of more evil in the future, forgiveness is the fuel for incredible good.  It turns the addict into an agent of healing, the miser into a benefactor, the oppressor into a servant and the oppressed into a just ruler.  
Good News!  That’s God’s goal in his forgiveness that he freely offers to YOU.  God’s goal is to erase your wrongs and empower you to a right relationship – to God and your neighbor.
Join us this Lenten Season as I preach on the subject of forgiveness – God’s Redemptive Release.


Your Partner in the Gospel,

Pastor Ryan
God is Good, All the Time!


Send it on Ahead

Send it on ahead
Sometime in the summer of 1989, my brother and I received tickets to an event at a local hotel.
I don’t remember where I got them, but I do remember what happened when we went. It turned
out to be a series of sales presentations given by highly enthusiastic speakers. The title of one
of the presentations was very enticing:
“How to buy a dollar for 41 cents”
The speaker convinced us that through a legal loophole for purchasing bonds, we could do just
that. We were so excited! And so we dug into our hard-earned savings that we had built up
earning our minimum wage jobs ($4 an hour at the time) and plunked down the $400 to
purchase the program. When we got home, we found that the entire kit was a series of tapes
instructing us on the basics of investing in real estate.
We never bought a single bond. It was a totally wasted investment – except, perhaps for the
enduring lessons it taught us (in the long run, it was probably worth the $400). One lesson was
most about the importance of putting faith in reliable sources! Perhaps you can relate to that
There is Good News – there is one investment advisor that’s supremely reliable. Jesus said:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where
thieves break in and steal,20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither
moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
On November 26, 1922 archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tut. By the
time they were done excavating, they found over 2,600 pounds of gold and jewels. Why was it
all in there? Because they believed that King Tut could take it with him into the afterlife.
Not according to Jesus. According to Jesus, there’s something much, much better – Treasure in
Heaven! Nothing compares to the infinite and eternal value of God and his promises. Author
Randy Alcorn writes,
“In Wall Street terms, Jesus is bearish when it comes to investing on earth. His financial forecast
for this world is ultimately bleak. But he’s unreservedly bullish about investing in heaven, where
every market indicator is eternally positive!”
In other words, according to Jesus, you can’t take it with you – but you can send it ahead!
Every investment commercial you listen to ends with the same qualifying statement: “Past
performance is no guarantee of future results.” But that’s not true when it comes to Jesus! As
the Bible tells us: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God
will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep (in death) in him.” (1 Thess 4:14)
Join us as we gather to worship Jesus Christ, our eternal treasure and learn to invest all we are
in the only sure thing there is, the Kingdom of God.
Pastor Ryan Sarenpa
God is Good, All the Time!



In 1954, the psychologist James Olds made a few ordinary rats the happiest rodents that had
ever lived. How?
He had directly wired an electrode into the rats’ brains, plugging into the septal area. The rats
seemed to enjoy it, so Olds gave them a lever: when pushed, it would turn on the electrode. The
rats quickly learned how it worked, and they had a fantastic time with it. Some of the rats would
giddily push the lever 2,000 times per hour for 24 hours straight.
Recently, scientists began to apply this research to human beings. Through non-invasive
means, they have found how to stimulate this region of our brains. How? It happens through
the presence (or simulated presence) of another person and the sounds of their movement and
voice. It requires an “emotional element,” which leaves the viewer feeling “safe, and warm, and
Good News! Long before researchers discovered this, God the Grand Designer provided it.
How? That’s the Message of the Bible, summarized in the book of Romans.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ
died for us.” (Romans 5:8, New International Version)
In other words, the power for Christian living comes from the Mercy of our Maker. It’s the source
of strength for living the life God has designed for you and me. And this design is described in
Romans chapter 12. I call it the great THEREFORE. This comes from the first few words of
verse 1:
“THEREFORE, in view of God’s mercy….”
Romans chapter 12 goes on to summarize what God’s design entails. In other words, what
does God’s great love produce? It’s nothing mysterious, nothing magical. In fact, it’s both
logical and intuitive. In a word, Love. Great love begets great love. It’s what empowers us to
fulfill what Jesus called the Great Commandment taught to us by Jesus:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27)
What does it mean to be a Christian? Ask anyone you meet, and you’ll probably get a different
answer every time. But God gives us an answer in one chapter: Romans 12.
For the first four weeks of 2023, we are learning so that we might live into God’s purpose and be
a part of his grand plan in my sermon series entitled, THEREFORE!
Pastor Ryan


Unless the Lord Builds the House

“Because I said so.”
That’s a phrase that you’ve heard – and that you might have used. As a son and as a father, I’ve
been on both ends of that expression. In all likelihood, “because I said so” ended the
conversation. Sometimes it’s necessary, perhaps because the situation is urgent or time is
short. But often it creates frustration and even misunderstanding. And in parenting, it’s a
missed opportunity in explaining to a child how and why to make good, solid choices. And,
even more importantly, it’s a missed opportunity to build trust.
God, as our all-wise Creator, has the absolute right to use this phrase. But the fact of the matter
is, he often takes the time to explain. The Good News is that our Heavenly Father wants us to
know why. Even more important, our Heavenly Father wants us to trust him, and so he gives
his children a thorough explanation in his Word, the Bible.
God wants his household of faith to be built on a solid foundation.
The church is often called a “community of faith.” This very title presupposes that everyone who
participates is a person of faith. As Christians, we have faith in many different things: That God
exists, that God hears and answers prayer, that there is a reason for evil and suffering, that the
Bible is true and trustworthy, and that life has purpose and meaning.
However, to be human means to have doubts. Faith can be shaken. In fact, doubt often
coexists alongside faith. That is, we have reasons to believe and reasons to doubt the very
same thing.
In his book, Reaching for the Invisible God, Philip Yancey writes: “The church at its best
prepares a safe and secure space that belief may one day fill; we need not bring fully formed
belief to the door, as a ticket for admission.” Jesus himself honored the faith of everyone who
asked, from the bold centurion to doubting Thomas, healing a man who brought his son to him
and said, “I do believe! Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Come and join us as we as a community of faith seek greater understanding. All are welcome –
and it’s safe to ask all your questions!
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)
Pastor Ryan
Seeking Jesus, Serving Others


The Good Life

Having moved here to Warren in February 2020, last year’s Marshall County Fair was the first that the Sarenpa family experienced.  What fun!  It started with a parade and a bag full of candy, and proceeded to four days of freedom, friends, food, games, music, and rides, rides, and MORE RIDES! Life was good, and the kids were living the good life!  They wished those days would never end.


Perhaps you’ve seen, or even have one of those t-shirts that says, Life is Good.  And perhaps you’ve never thought about it from God’s perspective.  The Bible tells us that God when created everything, including all different kinds of life, he declared that it was Good – and human life, which God created in his very own image, was Very Good.  While Heaven is the eternal hope of all Christians, that doesn’t mean life on earth is bad.  Heaven is simply described as “far better.” But still, here on earth, life is good. 


So how do we live the good life?  What is that, really? Is it summers at the lake and winters in Phoenix or Florida?  Well, God tells us that we can have it, no matter where we are, no matter what season we’re in.  In the book of Psalms in the Bible, it says:


“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”


In other words living the good life means doing good – because life is good!


Enjoy your time at the Marshall County Fair, and please come to the Worship Service in the Grandstand! It begins at 9:30.  See you then!


-Pastor Ryan Sarenpa, Warren Covenant Church


Written In Stone

“It’s not written in stone.”

We’ve all heard – or perhaps even used – the phrase.  It’s used to communicate the fact that something – usually a rule or a policy – isn’t permanent.  But we might also find ourselves saying this: “Nothing’s Permanent.”  It’s true that a lot of things change.  Look at any of the old pictures of Warren, and most of the time you’ll see things that aren’t around anymore.  Change is going on all the time, so it’s understandable that we use that aphorism.
But is that true? Does everything change? How about good and evil, right and wrong?
In the past few years it seems that our common perceptions of morality have particularly become a subject of debate.  For example, there’s been the movement across social media called “Shout Your Abortion” that celebrates and affirms women who have undergone this procedure.
The fact of the matter is that the exponential growth of information and technology, coupled with the philosophy that all of our ethics are a product of culture has created a mass of confusion.  Many of us feel this deeply. How can we know what is truly right and wrong?
The Good News is that there is something we can rely on.  There is something by which we can make our moral choices that is not only clear, but compelling.  And it’s nothing new! It’s been revealed to mankind for nearly 3000 years.  It’s been a source of instruction and inspiration to millions of people.  It’s the foundation of justice for both individuals and communities, states and nations.  And they were written in stone.  What is it?
It’s the Ten Commandments.
Beginning on Sunday, January 30th, I will be preaching on the meaning, the purpose, and the hope of these 10 “words” that God spoke directly to the liberated tribes of Israel.  These words were not only intended for them, but for all of us.
Join us for worship as we gather, in-person and online every Sunday morning.
Your Partner in the Gospel,
Pastor Ryan
God is Good, All the Time!