God With us. A day of Hope or Dread?

Immanuel – God with us!

Christmas is a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a day of hope and great joy. Peace on earth!

But not for all.

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light

Amos 5:18

For God to be near is a day of dread for those who are at enmity with God. A dark day. A day of gloom. All are born into a state of conflict with God, not peace. All sin and turn away from God. For God to be near, is a day of judgement for sinners. By nature, and by choice, we do not have peace with God and we are unable to reconcile with God and walk in peace with him by our own efforts.

That is the darkness of God with us, that He is good, but we are not. He has promised in his holy righteousness to bring wrath upon all wickedness. A promise we love, until we realize we are wicked. The holiness of God consumes sinners, that is a dark day. But there is hope.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

Isaiah 9:2

A false sense of peace is a conscious dimly lit with the flickering of artificial light. We need to know how our sin is deep darkness, the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness of being sinners in the presence of our holy God.

It is in this utter darkness where Jesus shines and is a great and overwhelming light.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Jesus is our Mighty God in the flesh and comes to usher in peace with his own death. There upon the cross did Jesus willingly absorb the wrath of God, the dark cup we earned by our sinful thoughts and deeds. It is in the darkness of sin where many have come to understand the incomparable mercy of Jesus and the depth of their sin and in this moment of revelation they cried out “what must we do to be saved?!” The answer almost seems anticlimactic, Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. No grand effort on our part is needed because Jesus fulfilled that promise of God to save. God’s profound promise “I will do it” became the “It is finished”

Our sin is placed upon Jesus and the perfect obedience he alone walked in becomes ours. We become adopted children who are pleasing to God, we may once again walk in peace with Him.

Emmanuel – “God with us” for those who are found in Christ, becomes a phrase that brings us to the pinnacle of joy because we are able walk in peace with God and to bask in His glory. All to the praise and honor of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

May you know the true peace of Christ and grow in grace and knowledge of Him – Merry Christmas!

Who is Magnify Church?

There are two questions that I am asked when people learn that we are planting a new church here in Monroe Washington.

  1. Why do we need another church in Monroe?
  2. How is Magnify Church different?

I hope to answer these questions below. If you have additional questions or would like to know more or plan a visit please send an email to MagnifyChurchMonroe@gmail.com or call/text (360) 322-4652.

Why do we need another church in Monroe?

To this I have to ask a question in return, why would we not want more churches in Monroe?

More churches that share the good news of Jesus Christ and disciple Christians so that they will have a better understanding of God as shown to us in the Bible and a full understanding of the Gospel of Jesus.

More churches where Christians are encouraged to care for one another and the community.

More churches where people are able to depart from the destructive paths in their lives through Biblical counseling and the freedom of the Gospel.

I understand that some are against Christian churches and that is their right to believe so, but a healthy church should be life giving, filled with those who are born again to a living hope in Jesus Christ. You can never have too much of that.

What makes Magnify Church different?

Different than what? Our intent for Magnify Church is not to be different, not to be the latest trend or to be a better cultural fit than other churches.

I can’t tell you how we are different from all the other churches, and I am not deceived in believing that we are the perfect church or the one that has it all figured out.

What I can tell you is what we believe is important for us as a Christian church and I will let you determine how that is different.

  1. We have the highest regard for Scripture. This plays out in everything we do from preaching, teaching, worship, counseling, and care for one another. We believe that the Bible is trustworthy and true, and the central message throughout is the good news of Jesus.
  2. We believe that worship is regulated by Scripture. While we do care about culture, we do not believe that we should cater to culture as a way to draw people in to church but instead teach God’s Word faithfully which is always relevant. We choose worship songs that are rich with the truth of God’s word and seek to glorify God and not man in our services.
  3. We are a reformed church which primarily means that we believe that salvation occurs by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone in Jesus Christ Alone, as revealed through Gods Word Alone and for the glory of God Alone.
  4. Finally, we are a confessional church which means we look back to the creeds and confessions that have been thoroughly tested by God’s word and provided guidance for us. We abide by the 1689 London Baptist Confession. This helps us to avoid teaching or believing errors that take us away from God’s Word.

I am excited to see our church grow in size as we proclaim the Gospel and people are saved but I am just as excited to see our church grow in depth as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and learn what it means to live as children of God.

Our success will not be determined by our size but by how we glorify God and respond to Him.

  • Pastor Brian Stoddard

Independence is an Illusion

Last week I preached on Genesis 4:17-26 which is mainly showing us God’s providence over His creation and how He maintains His covenant to save those who belong to him. It also shows the degrading morality of Cain’s descendants as they attempt to live independently from God. Cain builds a city, probably for his own protection. His son Lamech decides he knows better than God and marries two wives. Lamech’s children seem to excel and develop industry, agriculture, and the arts but all without God’s presence. They believed they were living large and autonomous lives without the need for God, you can feel the boasting in the words. In the end Lamech ends up killing a young man for wounding him which goes beyond what is allowed for retribution in the law and then he goes on to sing a song boasting about it to his two wives!

This is such a clear picture of God giving sinners over to their sin. First there is running from God and then replacing God, and then their calloused hearts make every attempt to eliminate any thought or word reminding them of God. They believe they are living autonomous lives apart from God but in reality, they are fully under God’s control. They also are depending on their own sinful desires and the sinful desires of others which leads to further and further destruction in their lives.

As I was preparing for this passage, I stumbled across an article in Psychology today by Jim Taylor, Ph.D. which I found to be both fascinating as well as sad.

Jim first wrote an article in 2010 declaring the benefits and explaining how to raise independent children who will thrive in the world. He also dedicated a chapter in one of his books to this concept. In 2018 he wrote another article called “Don’t raise independent children” where he states that after raising two teenage daughters, he was dead wrong about this concept of raising independent children. He goes on to state the following…

“I realized that independence is an illusion. As human beings, we are social creature’s incapable of being truly independent. Rather, we depend on others all the time. The key here is who are dependent on. If you foster what you believe is independence in your children, what you are really doing is detaching yourself from your children. In this disconnected state, your children will seek out others to become dependent on for their values and attitudes about themselves and the world, support and validation, and a sense of connectedness.

Here’s the problem. The two most likely groups that your children will glom onto are their peers and our popular culture. And let me say right now and unequivocally that you don’t want either of these to be whom your children become dependent on.”

Jim Taylor, Ph.D. (1)

I find it fascinating that Jim, who I assume is not a Christian can see from real life experience that independence is an illusion and people need and always depend on someone or something else. What I find sad is that Jim does not know why this is true and what to do about it.

The reason why independence is an illusion is because we were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), made to depend on God, made to worship Him and reflect His glory back to Him and to others (Isaiah 43:7). A better word for independence would be rebellion.

The sooner we realize our desperate need for God, the sooner we realize that our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36


Did you forget your hope?

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect 1 Peter 3:14–15

As I have been teaching through 1 Peter once again, I am seeing a much greater depth and richness in the text than I have ever seen before. It has been amazing to see how Peter was indeed the preacher of hope to those in his time which he called the “elect exiles”. I have been deeply encouraged by Peter to wake up and be sober minded, seeking to see myself and world as God does and have gained great hope in a time when it is needed.

I have used these verses in 1 Peter 3 wrongly in the past as I have used them to show our need to know the Gospel and have a right theology. That is all very true and incredibly important, but it is not the point of this text. Instead of being prepared with right words, Peter is telling us to be prepared with hope. We can clearly see this when reading these verses in the proper context which is the suffering of Christians in the first century who desperately needed hope.

How do you build hope?

 Hope is not something you can simply fabricate or muster up by sheer will power, it is a direct product of what we believe to be true. There is no shortcut around this, it is built into our nature to have hope based on what we believe. Knowing that to be true, Peter gives us this amazing statement that is meant to build our hope – “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy”

It is easy to move quickly past that phrase, but it is the very cure for dwindling hope. To honor Christ as holy means that we know that Jesus is set apart and has no equal and has no rival. There is nothing and no one that we can compare to Jesus Christ our Lord! Once you start with that truth, allow it to flow down to your present situation and life.

Sin is defeated

Our greatest problem is not government or other people or even cancer. Our greatest problem is our sin which cannot rival Jesus. Jesus, through his perfection has defeated sin and rose again! Our desire to sin is still a problem but it no longer separates us from God. So the easiest and most profound result of honoring Christ as holy is that we know Jesus has overcome the world, sin, and death.

Jesus calls us from dark to light.

We need to be careful about the language we use when speaking of Jesus too casually. Yes Jesus wants us to draw near and made us sons and daughters of God and removed the barrier that we might approach the throne with confidence but at the same time, Jesus is holy and is dealing with our sin. When I honor Christ as holy and realize that my desire for sin has no place with Jesus I am given hope knowing that I am being sanctified and although it may be painful along the way, I have an ensured inheritance that is never defiled or lost. It also makes me want to be with Jesus more and more, do step into the beautiful ight of His presence, today and every day after. This is an eternal perspective that builds hope.

There are many more hope building benefits from honoring Christ as holy. Start by stepping outside of your self and consider what it means for Jesus to be a holy and righteous King and then consider what that means for you and your situation.

I am looking forward to continuing our study in 1 Peter and placing my hope more and more in Jesus and less on myself or others. Want to join us? Let us know at magnifychurchmonroe@gmail.com

Who is in Charge?

These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. Acts 17:7-9

Who is in charge?

What a relevant question for the time we are in, who is in charge? As I wrote in my last article on anxiety, when there is someone we trust who is in charge our fears tend to dissipate but as we look around the landscape, we really are not sure who is in charge. Many are positioning for power but do not seem to have the ability to do anything that really makes a difference. The great irony of life in the US is that despite our deep history of independence and chest popping bravado, we are no different than any other humans and we long for someone to be in charge. Any movie with a hero figure seems to rock the box office and we continually elevate sports and entertainment figures and put our hopes for salvation in our politicians. This is nothing new, thousands of years ago, the Israelites wanted a king as well. They had Gods presence and protection, but they demanded to have an earthly king rule over them (2 Sam 8). We all want someone to be in charge.

I believe that most Christians acknowledge that, at least in theory, God is in charge but for all of us there is a disconnect to some degree. As Christians, we know that is supposed to be the answer but why does it not look like God is in charge?  Our understanding of what it means for God to be in control and our willingness to submit to that truth directly affects how we live out our years, days, and minutes but when we hit a crisis, that is when these gaps really begin to manifest themselves through our anxious hearts.

Is God in charge?

Between the time of the incarnation and ascension of Jesus, He performed amazing miracles, He ruled over creation as shown by calming storms (Mk 4:39), walking on water (Mk 6:48), the gathering of fish (Jn 21:6), the command over plants (Mark 11:20) , and much more. He ruled over sin by stating that He had the authority to forgive sins and then backed that up with physical healings. While Jesus was physically in the presence of mankind, He showed what it looked like to have Heaven on Earth. He did not stop there; he went on to fulfill His role as Lord of lords and King of kings. Mark bookends his Gospel with this theme as he shows that the Magi came to worship the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2). Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mk 1:14–15) and fulfilled the prophetic call to be King (Zechariah 9) at the triumphant entry (Matthew 21). Then near the crucifixion we see Jesus being interrogated and He responds with silence with the exception of a very few words to affirm that He was the King if the Jews (Matthew 27:11). But now what? Has Jesus ascended and left us to fend for ourselves? Not according to early Christians who understood that Jesus was still the reigning King.

In Acts 17 we see this situation unfold that reveals to us the mindset of early followers of Jesus. In the face of danger, they acted boldly. It was apparent to their opponents why they would behave this way – they actually believed that there was another king, and his name is Jesus! They knew that Jesus was still the King of kings and fully in control and they were free to follow Him. Paul knew this as well and proclaimed that Jesus is still reigning.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

1 Corinthians 15:24-25

There is One who is in power and over all heavenly and earthly power and authority. God bends the hearts of Kings as He wishes (Proverbs 21:1) and He has put everything in subjection to Jesus, he left nothing outside his control (Hebrews 2:8). Jesus the King is in complete control of every particle and nothing happens without flowing through His hands.

Why does it not look like God is in control?

So why do I still feel like I need someone with power to be in authority and make things better? These large sweeping statements of God being in control can seem to pass right over personal and more intimate fears and needs as if God is in control of the big things like where the moon is placed but my mortgage and marital struggles are up to me to deal with. It is also obvious that there is still very much wrong in the world and sin is rampant.

The King is holding back sin. This subject requires an article of its own and there are many great books on the subject. We see that through the establishment of order, laws, families, and authority that God is restraining evil in this world. We see in Romans 1 that God has also given us a conscience that is aware of God. Sin is not running rampant; it has been overcome and dominated but allowed to remain for a time.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-21

Finally we see in one revealing story how Jesus can be fully in control and yet permit sin.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.

Luke 22:31&32

Here is Jesus predicting Peters famous denial and it is very clear here that Jesus was in control as Satan had to entreat Him for permission to have access to Peter and to test him. We can only assume that since Peter did in fact deny Jesus that this permission was given to Satan. Jesus also makes a prediction that shows He was always in control – “when you have turned again”. Satan was permitted to have Peter and Peter was permitted to deny Jesus and sin but it was all permitted by the hands of a sovereign and loving God and only for a time.

The place where we will see the culmination of Gods power and control will be when we see Him face to face and not as if in a poorly lit mirror (1 Co 13:12) but that time has yet to come. Jesus is the King and we can live boldly and in confidence that He loves us and wants good for us. He is preparing us to live in the overwhelming weight of His glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). This time of preparation is what feels out of control as we learn hard lessons that help us push away the world and hang on to Jesus but we are never out of Gods grasp.

We ought to encourage one another of these truths and remind ourselves often that God is in charge so that the tendency of our hearts is to lean into Him and allow our fears to fade away in comparison to His glory.

Overcoming Anxiety, When the Bible Does not “work”

Dave is struggling with anxiety. At first he would never have thought that his feelings would continue to compound, much less define them with a name such as anxiety. Stress was a normal part of life as it is for everyone; deadlines and obligations, social pressures and financial needs were a constant concern but all managed within their bounds. Then a pandemic appears on the horizon and was suddenly upon him. Dave was laid off but the bills kept coming. Listening to the news and social media, words describing sickness and death seemed to be a constant reminder of impending doom. Dave started having trouble sleeping, staring at the ceiling for hours and waking through the night with the same thoughts repeating through his mind. He dwelt on the future and what might happen, working out possible solutions and taking it all to a fictional end over and over again. Dave’s wife noticed that he was increasingly irritable and seemed on edge often. Dave went to church every Sunday and used to read his Bible and pray but now those disciplines seemed difficult and empty. Tim was Dave’s best friend and noticed his struggles with being anxious, they were talking about it one day and Tim suggested that Dave read some Scriptures that dealt with anxiety which Dave did somewhat reluctantly but also with a tinge of hope. At first, they seemed to help, he did what the verses instructed him to do by praying more and working harder at not dwelling on things and worrying but soon these things became harder to do and seemed like empty rituals. Anxiety was compounded by shame at his lack of faith and ability to get over his issues.

If parts of this scenario feel familiar to you, be encouraged and know that Scripture is active and working. Having the right understanding of the purpose of the Bible and a proper expectation of its application is critical though.

First, we will take a look at one very popular passage and see how it has common threads throughout other Scriptures dealing with fear and anxiety, and then finally we will see what it does and does not call us to do or think.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7

This is commonly quoted or read starting in verse 6, negating the words “The Lord is at hand” which is a tremendous error. Without those very important words we are given a command without a commander and marching orders without a direction. With that vital truth we simply begin with “do not be anxious” – come on, just stop it already. Get over it. Pray and be thankful more and when you do that all correctly you will have peace. This shopping list of commands is utterly empty without knowing that God is at hand. Of course adding those words back in does not change anything either when the goal is to have God fix our circumstances without having His presence.

Looking at some other passages helps us see that this is not a mechanical solution but a personal one and that it involves relational actions such as talking, submitting, and trusting but even more than that, it is knowing that who is present is able to help.

The Lord is at hand and in control and wants good for those who love Him. Think of a time that you went into a stressful situation, maybe as a child moving to a new home and school or as an adult heading into a big meeting. Having someone with you that is looking out for your best interest is comforting but when that person has the power to protect you and the wisdom to guide you, your fears tend to melt away. They do not magically vanish because you have chosen to overcome them, they are carried along and overshadowed by the presence of one who can provide and protect.

Most people are familiar with the story in Exodus where the Israelite’s have been set free from Egypt only to be trapped against the Red Sea while the Egyptians are barreling down on them with horses and chariots and a great vengeance in mind. Imagine being there with all of your belongings on your back and your family surrounding you, your children, babies, grandparents and spouse all in an incredibly vulnerable moment with certain pain and death about to hit. It is in this moment when Moses reminds them that God is at hand.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14

This is incredible news for both the Israelite’s and us, if you were able to accept these words and believe them, your fears would melt away but the better news is that even if you lacked the faith to believe this, God is still faithful.  There are striking similarities between this and the numerous passages in the New Testament dealing with anxiety. When Jesus teaches about being anxious, He is gentle and loving yet also brings a firm reminder, even a rebuke to those listening. In Matthew 6, Jesus ties being anxious to having two masters and being double minded but also uses loving fatherly language, a father who can provide and has a desire to rescue His children. Then you have Peter calling those who are anxious to humble themselves and cast their anxieties on to God.

Scripture is unified in speaking about our fears and anxieties. We are anxious when we turn to ourselves and trust in our own power to save, but God brings a loving rebuke which is meant to wake us up and draw us near to Him. This is not to say that we are always at fault for falling into anxiety, often we create wrong expectations or develop desires for worldly things that are a cause of anxiety when they fail us but other times we are victims of sin which creates anxiety. Most likely it’s a mixture of both and both have the same cure, an intentional humbling of our souls and movement toward God.

Scripture is not meant to be a quick fix nor is it meant to change your circumstances without changing your heart. I have counseled many people and it is fairly easy to spot a person who simply wants a quick fix without really wanting to change and if there is change it is short lived. The relief of anxiety always involves heart change, which requires humility. This heart change accompanies the relief of anxiety for those who have caused their own anxiety as well as those who are victims of sin. Both have a need to see God as sovereign and good and a turning from themselves and to God.

What can you do then to be less anxious?

Be humble.

Talk about your struggles with mature and trusted Christians. This not only requires humility, but it allows you to borrow their faith in a moment of weakness. Imagine those Israelite’s at the Red Sea again hearing Moses shouting out the promises of God. I am sure that some of them had to be nearly carried as they trembled in fear. Do not be ashamed if you seem to lack enough faith to overcome your fears, simply taking a step of asking for help is a step of faith.

Be Steadfast.

Humbling yourself and seeking God is not just a one time step but part of the daily life of the Christian. We will go through times of fear and doubt but those are opportunities to fall at the feet of Jesus. Anxieties do not simply disappear. Faith does not banish suffering from illness or financial loss or broken relationships, but it does put them into perspective and allows us to carry them to God, over and over again. Having anxious feelings that are slow to change and still being faithful to cry out to God over and over again might feel like failure, but it is quite the opposite, that is the definition of being steadfast, more precisely it is the definition of long suffering. Be steadfast and seek God through prayer, the reading of His word, and other Christians.

Be in awe.

In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus sends out the apostles and warns them that persecution will come but to not be afraid of man, be afraid of God instead because He truly holds the power of eternal life and death as the Creator of all. This is not a statement to be in fear of a capricious God but a loving, righteous, and holy Father who cares for them, knows the number of hairs on their heads and will provide and protect. Simply put, when we are sober minded, we will realize that we have feared things which do not deserve the weight that we give them in our lives. Being in awe of God helps us to see that the things we fear are all subject to His authority.

Following these steps, you may not experience the instant relief you hoped for but you will be able to look back and realize that you have removed yourself from Gods throne and have grown to love being in His presence while the world seems to be in turmoil around you and this is precisely where God is pointing you to in His Word. The problem is not that Scripture is not working, it is that we have the wrong expectation of how it is meant to work.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things

too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 131

Coronavirus Anxiety – Awakened From a False Sense of Security

I was talking to someone the other day just before we were all ordered to stay home and he asked me what I thought was going to happen tomorrow, my reply was simple – I don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour! It feels like we are living in very uncertain times but in reality, there is nothing new, nothing different about this week then the same time last year in regard to our security. We had only been lulled into a false sense of security, life is fragile, health is fragile, and the economy is incredibly fragile. Sorry if that does not make you feel any better, if you are anxious it does not help to tell you that what you are feeling now, you should have been feeling all along. There is good news though, we have a loving God who is very much in control!

That false sense of security is nothing new, it is undoubtedly much worse in our current era of self-reliance but has been a trap since the day Adam ceased to trust God and no longer believed that He was good and in control. It is in this delusional state that we all believe and tell one another that we are okay. God rebuked the false prophets and teachers for giving people a false sense of security. They felt secure because they had made a dirty, weak wall look strong and secure by painting it white…

Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ Ezekiel 13:10-13

They ignorantly relied on a wall to protect them from their enemies, a weak and failing wall instead of trusting God. We are no better off, believing that our technology, money, and healthcare will save us, yet here we are realizing that all of our systems and structures appear much stronger than they really are.

So what now? Here we all are realizing that we have relied on the unreliable and we are afraid of what the future holds. The answer is to hope and trust that God is good and in control. But God is a crutch for the weak– this is a retort I have heard many times as I have shared the good news of Jesus. I am told that those who are weak rely on a fictional god that makes them feel better. In reality, we are all weak and we were created to live under Gods protection and care, yet we have created our own crutches to lean on. Many are now realizing that these created crutches cannot support and provide the security they were hoped to provide.

The God who created all things is still in control of all things and He shows His love and care for all of us as we have turned away and no longer trust Him. We have instead turned to trust ourselves and things that we have created and now we are anxious and afraid. God provides in many ways for all of the world but His grace is shown primarily to us in that He sent His son Jesus to take on our sin and rebellion. Jesus died in our place so that we might once again be reconciled to God and trust in Him. Jesus spoke often and very lovingly to those who followed him and encouraged them to not be afraid. The Apostle Paul knew very well what it meant to live in turmoil, chaos, and impending death yet he reminds us of the cure for anxiety which he surely practiced on a daily basis.

The Lord is at hand

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:4-7

The key to this passage is the phrase “the Lord is at hand” which is all too easy to pass over but when you pause and reflect on this truth we realize the weight that it carries. The rest of this passage is empty without it. What good are our requests, prayer and rejoicing if we cannot be reasonable and know that God is at hand.

What should you do with this? That depends on who you are;

Christian: Be encouraged and know that God is good and in control and hears your prayers. He promises to use all things for your good and His glory and has the power to do it. He is present and working. God has adopted many to be His children and to follow Him through the blood of Jesus and has told us to encourage and pray for one another as well as to provide practical help. Humble yourself and ask for help from God and other believers.

Unbeliever: Do you see how you have turned from God and trusted in other things or people? The much more dangerous false sense of security is believing that you are living at peace with God when you are in fact His enemy. It is an incredible act of mercy and love that God would pursue those who have rebelled against Him and provide a way to be reconciled by trusting in Jesus. Now you have an opportunity to turn from trusting in weak man made “gods” and be reconciled to God. When you realize this and ask God for forgiveness, He will provide it and you can run to Him and live under His protection and in His presence as you were created to.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11

Don’t get me wrong, there is much to fear. People are losing their jobs, people are getting sick and some are even dying but the more we turn from a false sense of security and trust in the Creator of the universe, the more we can carry our fears to Him.

I hope this is helpful, I will be writing more about how to deal with fear and anxiety soon. If you have questions, would like to know more about Jesus or need help please contact me at magnifychurchmonroe@gmail.com

A Better Way to Love

Love is a concept that is greatly misunderstood and seems nearly impossible to explain, yet that does not restrain us from claiming our love for others or even our favorite snack. Try to explain love to someone and you will undoubtedly end up tripping over your words as you search for a way to explain a concept that you suddenly realize you have not fully grasped. Psychologists and researchers have also endeavored to establish a succinct way to define love yet they either leave the explanation as a lofty and mysterious theory or root it in its most primitive form, using evolutionary instincts as an explanation. Neither suffices to satisfy us.

The fact that love is such a mystery is rather profound and serves as foundational proof that love is not a concept of human invention nor is it understandable with our current knowledge of human nature without an outside source. This leaves us as Christians to define love as it was intended; through an understanding of God and His definition of love. First, we will look at what love is not, in order to identify some ways we may intentionally or unintentionally be acting out in a harmful, worldly imitations of Godly love.

Conditional Love – As long as you meet my needs, give me what I want, perform up to my standards or meet some other criteria then I will bestow my love upon you and give you what you want. This would seem to be an obviously wrong and damaging way to love and yet many marriages and families are structured around this form of love which can be better defined as manipulation. There are even Christian books that subtly teach this way of love. The extreme end of conditional love is easy to identify as harmful and manipulative – I will withhold good things from you until you satisfy my needs. On the more subtle end we speak of love languages and the filling of one another’s buckets which sounds right at first until we look deeper and realize it’s a give to get methodology of love.

Unconditional Love – I will love you no matter what you do. This sounds profoundly Biblical and often used with good intentions. We often bring other words into the conversation when speaking of unconditional love that should be alarming when brought into focus. To love without condition means we must be tolerant and accept without judgement and be okay with the actions of others, stating that we “will be here for them” and accept them without condition. This type of unconditional love is impotent and void of a desire for change. Where conditional love is more externally obvious and a sin of commission, unconditional love is covert and more a sin of omission. For a parent, this can be a tolerance of behaviors that are sinful and damaging to the child’s future in the name of love but the root of this tolerance is fear or laziness. Confronting others with their sin and asking them to change is hard work and even when accomplished in the most loving manner can often drive others away and create a tension in relationships. Apply that same reasoning to any relationship and you will see that unconditional love is rather selfish.

It is impossible to reconcile this idea of unconditional love with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God. Unconditional love can be used as a synonym with grace but that only stays true to a point. It is true that God provides redemption and reconciliation based on His grace alone, but the story of salvation is a story of movement and of rescue. Gods grace calls us to action – Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph 5:1–2.

Biblical Godly Love – If we proclaim that unconditional love is good, we must recognize that Gods love is so much better. Biblically, love is described as being of God and shown by the grace provided us through the Cross. Godly love however is not dispassionate or neutral to leave us as we are, the love of God is intended to bring us to repentance and change for our good and Gods glory (Romans 2:4). God’s love is passionate and jealous. God does not love us from afar but deals with our pride and conforms us to the likeness of Jesus and draws us near. God’s love is not fickle and based on our actions or responses because God sets His affection on those He loves, not based on their merit but only on His love (Deut 7:7).

We are called to love in the same way, to be selfless and patient (1 Corinthians 13:4), to want others to be saved and conformed into the image of Jesus (1 Peter 1:14–15). God’s love is active, full of pursuit, and expectation (1 Timothy 1:14–17). Godly love is not tolerant or accepting of sin but calls for change. Godly love confronts a spouse in a gentle way about their sinful behavior. Godly love proclaims the Gospel to our children in word and deed with gentleness and respect even if it offends them. Godly love shows patience, mercy, and grace which is beyond reason. Godly love is an overflowing of God’s love for us that is contagious and zealous to love others first.

God’s love for us is not conditionally based on our works nor is it unconditional, it is based on the condition of Jesus bearing our sin in an active yet patient manner, conforming us to His likeness Once you begin to rightly understand the love of God, these other worldly forms of love become weak imitations.  

Prayers of Anxiety

I do not recall any time in my life that I was free from concerns of the future. As a child I spent most of my time alone and in my own head, escaping from the unstable world around me and creating one that met my idea of good and was easy to control. Adulthood brought all the cares of the world and I worked hard to keep them at bay and stay ahead. Over my 25 years of being a Christian the tension of acting as my own god and wanting to live as an adopted son of God has been a continual battle.

This tension of being a Christian and living in the world is very real. We should feel that tension and acknowledge that it exists and most importantly, we need to know that it is our desires that are the cause of that tension. A desire to be an adopted child of God and follow Him without question is marred by our desires to determine for ourselves what is good and relying on ourselves as the only source for that self-determined good.

This tension will manifest itself in many ways, one of them is in our prayers. Crying out to God from the pit of distress is a very good thing that is modeled for us over and over throughout the Psalms. Psalm 88 is full of this language of pleading for rescue and help and is a wonderful example to follow. When our prayer for rescue becomes a prayer of anxiety is when we begin to doubt the sovereignty of God, live in the future and determine what a good answer should look like, how it will come about and when it will happen. This self-determined future view is brought about by a prideful untrusting heart; when we believe we know enough and can see enough to determine how things will turn out. It is from this place that we cry out for Gods help with the caveat that it must fit within our plans. This may be compounded by lies we consume, doubting the goodness, ability, and presence of God all prompt the elevating of ourselves as our own savior and king.  

I have caught myself praying this way in subtle ways and realized my error, asked for forgiveness and quieted my soul. Situations may still be dire; health, finances, wayward children, and a multitude of other sources of fear and anxiety strike at our hearts but the prayer of faith starts with an understanding of Gods character and my own limitations.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131:1-3

The prayer of faith cries out to the Creator of the universe who is also present and acknowledges that He knows and determines the end of all things. God is pleased with me because of the work of Jesus Christ and I am His child in Christ. This is not just a pleasant thought to placate my fears but a deep truth for me to digest daily and my prayers ought to align with this truth.

Cry out to God; call on Him for rescue and help but first consider who you are calling on and your relationship with Him. We have free and unobstructed access to the throne of God thanks to Jesus. We ought to pause and remember to approach with reverence as we recall that this is the Creator of all things we are crying out to as well as the precious blood it cost to gain that relationship.

14 The Lord upholds all who are falling
    and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
    you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and kind in all his works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
    and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.  Psalm 145:14-21

What Does it Mean to be Sober Minded, Part 2

In Part One, I focused on what being sober minded could mean for those who believe they are saved but are not. Our focus will now turn to being sober minded as followers of Christ.

The term here is mostly used as an encouragement to wake up and remember what is true. I have been a Christian now for over 25 years, but I remember the early years when everything was new and seeing Gods grace for the first time led me to drop to my knees and brought tears to my eyes. I had epiphanies frequently as I was seeing paradigm shifts happening in my life. For the first time I saw that my sin was horrible and the chance to repent and be forgiven drove me to worship. All of that is still happening 25 years later but there have been seasons of discouragement, doubt, trials, and a turning to myself. I know this is the case for many others as well and the “dry seasons” can be severe for some. The New Testament Epistles contain a large amount of content that is meant to dispel incorrect thinking and remind us of what is true, this is an exhortation to be sober minded. Being sober minded is a way to escape from the droughts of doubt and spiritual depression as long as we are in this world and waiting to be glorified.

What leads to discouragement, spiritual depression, and doubt? I believe this occurs when people either lose sight of what they first believed or they were taught the Gospel incorrectly.. Both have the same cure which is to align your thinking with that of Scripture. This of course does not take away the pain and suffering we endure but it puts it into perspective so that we have a desire to turn to God, die to self, and allow fellow believers to encourage and help us in times of trouble instead of turning into ourselves.

  1. Being Disillusioned – An improper teaching of the Gospel leads to wrong expectations which in turn leads to discouragement. The most obvious perpetrators of this disillusionment are the prosperity teachers who falsely teach that the redemption of sin on the Cross also brings about healing for health and wealth. There is however an American Gospel which is a subtle version of this, and it implies that life gets better in this world as a Christian, more freedom, more happiness, more, more, more. There are many other forms of this that would take a book to cover but these false gospels are all man centered and not God centered. They teach that the Bible is a road map for man to be successful and that Jesus wants you to be happy. Jesus wants you to have peace while in the world but that is very different from having happiness while pursuing the world. Scripture teaches us that this world is not our home and we should expect suffering.
  • Being Overwhelmed – A proper teaching of the Gospel and of following Jesus can also lead to discouragement and spiritual depression when we lose sight of what we were first taught. It is one thing to expect suffering, but we also bring along with that an expectation of how God will work and save us in our troubles. This is a truth we should hang on to tightly, knowing that God is a good Father and will save us to eternity, but our timing can be off. We can head into a trial full of Gods promises, having run through the various possible scenarios in our minds with a hope in how God will work and when He will do it. Our hope then becomes the outcome of salvation and not in God who is our great reward. Even without having these expectations, the waiting can become overwhelming and we can begin to doubt that God is working. This is much like the Israelites in Exodus 32, who waited for Moses but when he did not return as expected they assumed, he was not coming back and took matters into their own hands. Moses was Gods representative so without Moses, they believed they also did not have God. I am sure they gave God a grace period and waited for Him much longer than they meant to, perhaps even extending the deadline a couple of times but eventually they could wait no longer. It is this scene in our lives that feels familiar, the waiting can even be a lifetime. David had the same struggle and wrote of it in Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I take counsel in my soul 
and have sorrow in my heart all the day? 
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

This feeling that God is not present, and working is very common and must be actively battled.

Both of these troubling scenarios can be cut short by being sober minded and bringing to mind what is true. Peter gives us some very profound truths to remember in his first letter.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3–9

We see here that if we have been saved, it is God who saves us and keeps saving us and will guarantee that salvation to eternity. God has worked, He is working, and will keep working and He has the power to save. It is following this amazing set of truths that Peter tells us to be ready for action and to be sober minded.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:13–21

How can being sober minded help from being discouraged? It starts with knowing and hanging on to the truth of what God has completed and remembering that we are exiles in this world. Don’t forget that God is all powerful and rescued you from your former ignorance, when things get hard don’t go back!

  • Expect Suffering – We do not need to go looking for suffering but when we follow Jesus, we should just expect that suffering comes along with being hated by the world. Jesus warned the disciples that they would all fall away due to discouragement, confusion and doubt (Matthew 26:30–35) and He again warns them that the world will hate them and tells them to expect it so they do not fall away (John 16:1–4).
  • Know that God is working – Jesus does not just stop with telling the disciples to expect trouble, He continues to teach them in chapter 16 that they will have help from the Spirit and that they can ask God for help and receive it. Then finally, at the end of this beautiful exchange, Jesus tells them again that they will have trouble in this world, but that he has overcome!

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jn 16:33

It is with these hearing and trusting these words that we can have peace in this world that hates us. It is these words that remind us that God is and has always been in control and has saved us and is saving us and will save us to the end.

  • Be Humble – The suffering we endure from sin does not just come from the world; it also comes from within. It is our own sin that can often cause us the most suffering as we make attempts to exalt ourselves. It is that fallen nature that sprang from the garden that lies within and tells us that we are the ones that have the right to chose between good and evil, what is right and wrong and how things ought to look. When we go down that dangerous road, we begin to discover that we do not have the power to back up those decisions and this thinking brings suffering upon us. Peter knew the reality of this trap and warns us to humble ourselves, especially when you are anxious. Trust in God and do not take matters into your own hands or you may fall into the same trap that Adam did. Being humble also prevents us from pushing others out of our lives and instead helps us ask for help from other believers when we need it the most.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 
1 Peter 5:6–8

Its time to wake up! Know what you believe and start acting on it!

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. 
Romans 13:11–14