Author Archives: Andy Baker

Why Do Church?

I’ll admit it: I’ve been burned by church. I grew up with my dad serving in a church, and thusly got to see the underbelly of the beast. I heard about the fighting, the politics, and the heartache and started thinking: why do I need this? I love God, have accepted Christ as my Savior, do a number of good things, and read the Bible, so why get up early in the morning to go to church? In fact, I started thinking I would be better off in my faith without the church, because I often saw church as bringing my faith down, rather then building it up. My experience is not overly unique. Many people I meet believe in God, but have been so burned by experiences in the local church that they have nothing to do with it. This is the case in the community I serve: 85% of the population believes in God, but only around 35% are active in a church. This all begs the question: why church?

Acts 2:42-47 lays out in detail how the first church functioned, and when I read that passage it becomes clear to me how important being part of a church community is. Here are four big answers to the “why church?” question from Acts 2:

To learn and grow {v.42}: We participate in a Christian community so that we can learn from the wisdom of others. We grow not only from hearing sermons on Sunday mornings, but from watching the example of others, being mentored, hearing testimonies, and being held accountable.
To make each other better {v.44}: Church needs to be a place where we make one another better. We pray for each other, offer encouragement, are there in difficult times, and help break sinful habits. A church thrives when everyone in it takes this responsibility seriously.
To improve the world around us {v.45}: There is so much need in our community, state, nation, and world. While we can {and should} take actions to address these needs individually, we make the biggest impact when we serve together.
To celebrate God {v.45-47}: So much about church seems to revolve around music. We pick what church we are going to attend because of it, and much of our in fighting stems from it. We need to move beyond music preferences, realizing that what is central to church is God’s people coming together to celebrate God for all He does for us. We need to look at worship as a time we give to God, not as a time for us to be receiving.
Many of us whine because we’ve either neither found these things in a church, or because our church does not seem to do them well. I want to say this to all of us {myself included}: instead of whining about our church, lets start making these things happen ourselves. Start seeing church as a place to grow, make others better, improve your world, and truly celebrate God.Why 

Faith Against All Odds

As some of you know, my family will soon be taking on an exciting new journey. We will be moving July 15th to Managua, Nicaragua where we will be serving as missionaries. Our entire family is very excited about this calling God has placed on our hearts and minds, but I would be remiss in saying that excitement is our sole feeling. There are many causes for concern as we head into this adventure: needing to raise financial support, acclimating to a new culture, learning a new language, living in an area known for natural disasters, living in a nation currently under US sanctions, being thousands of miles from family and friends, and more. There have certainly been moments throughout this process where I’ve wondered if we are in over our head and should really pursue something else.

In light of these fears it was very much “a God thing” that I happened upon a documentary this weekend entitled Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War. I have a deep interest in World War II, especially in those who stood up to the NAZI’s, so the title sucked me in. As I watched I was shocked to hear a story I had never heard told before. In 1939 Waitstill Sharp was the pastor of a church in Wellesley, MA, and his wife Martha was a social worker, when they received a call to be missionaries in Czechoslovakia. While most missionary work in that era was inherently risky, this assignment carried exorbitant risk. The Sharps were tasked with helping Jews and other opponents of the NAZI’s escape Czechoslovakia, which Germany had just invaded. Risking arrest, torture, and almost certain death, the Sharps were able to help over 2,000 children and adults not only escape Czechoslovakia, but also escape death in a concentration camp. In several cases the Sharps even personally helped people cross the boarder using forged documents or via smuggling routes through the mountains. There reason for doing this? Their faith that God had called them to stand-up against evil.

Here are some earth shattering words that really tied everything together for me this week:
Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6

Anything we do for God, from leaving our country to face down the Nazi’s to sharing the gospel with our neighbor, requires faith. If we are to ever be the servants of God we are called to be we need to trust that God has a plan for us. Even more then that, we need to trust that God is exactly who He says He is. In what ways to you need to have the faith of Waitstill Sharp this week? What aspects of life are you struggling to trust God with? We all need to trust God with our whole life so that He may do increasingly great things through us.

Re-Fueling

I’ve run out of gas twice in my life. The first time was in high school. I’d learned that if my dad saw my car on empty he would fill it up, so why spend my own valuable money? One time I kept stubbornly driving on empty and Dad never filled it up, leaving me stranded at school. The second time happened about seven years ago. I was driving from Wisconsin to my parent’s home in Sioux City, IA. I came upon a major exit when I was just under a quarter full, but none of the gas stations served the correct kind of coffee (what, you don’t choose gas stations based on the coffee selection?). Every subsequent exit I found something wrong with the gas options: too expensive, too far off the highway, not nice enough, etc. I eventually ran out of gas (in the middle of winter I might add), and got to have an incredibly exciting adventure trying to get re-fueled.

Luke 8:16 has been on my heart recently. There Jesus tell us:
No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.

Jesus is telling us that we are all tasked with shining for Him in the world. We are to follow and serve Him in all the we do, and when that happens God can best use us to lead others out of darkness and into His light. That’s led me to this thought: every light needs fuel. Whether it be oil, wax, gas, batteries, or nuclear fusion, every light needs to be fueled by something. The thing fueling us to be the light of Christ is our love for God. That begs the question: how full is your tank? If you had a gas gauge on your “love for God tank” what would it read today? Are you passionate about God right now, excitedly serving Him, worshiping Him, and connecting with Him? Or does your tank feel like its getting close to empty? You still love God, but the passion is a lot less then it once was.

If you are feeling like your love tank is getting low take ownership of getting it filled back up. So many of us think its the responsibility of others to fill our tank (i.e. Pastors, family, friends, church), just like I thought my Dad needed to fill my gas tank. Many times we make excuses for not filling up our tank, saying we don’t like our options, don’t have the time, etc. (much like me on the highway). This week take ownership of filling up your tank with God’s love. Open your Bible and read about all God has done for you. Spend time in prayer. Attend worship with an open heart and mind. Fill your tank up so that you can be the brightest light possible.

Teachability

Growing up school was pretty easy for me. Most subjects came naturally, and I could breeze through with minimal effort. Math, however, was a massive exception. No matter how much I tried math always seemed completely incompressible (especially when random letters and symbols got throw into the mix). Because I typically did so well in school, and felt that “being smart” was a big part of my identity, I never wanted to ask for help. I felt that being smart meant being able to do things without help, so I refused to getting the extra teaching and assistance I really needed. I got through the minimum amount of math I needed to go to college (with the lowest grades of any classes I took), and then went to elaborate lengths to take the absolute minimum amount of math in college. Quite surprisingly, I did substantially better in math in college, even though the material was much harder. The reason? Well, I was actually excited to ask for help, because the person I got to ask was a brilliant and incredibly good looking (dare I say hot?) senior math major (who I’ve now been happily married to for 12 years). Because I was willing to be teachable I came to understand the concepts, and succeeded at a much higher rate then I could have ever dreamed.

The more I look at us as Christians I think we have a severe teachability problem (myself included). We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do, offer us a new perspective, challenge our ideas, broaden our horizons, or push us to go deeper. Somewhere along the line we’ve come to see getting advice as some form of weakness. Yet, the Bible is very clear that we are to always be open to challenges, new ideas, conviction, and teaching. Let me give us a few examples:

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:9

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:1

I personally love the straightforwardness of Proverbs 12:1! If we are not willing to be listen, be taught, and even be corrected, how can we truly grow into the disciples God needs us to be? I really encourage all of us to take some time today to reflect how teachable we may, or may not be. If you find yourself to not be open to the instruction of God and others think about why that is, and start making changes to be more open to Godly teaching. The more teachable we are the more impact we can make for the Kingdom. 

Is Perception Really Reality?

We’ve all heard the phrase “perception is reality.” Its a phrase I often use when talking with our volunteer greeters and ushers at church. We want to make sure they are as friendly and welcoming to our guests as possible because “perception is reality:” if your guests perceive that they are welcome,d then they really will feel welcome. Yet, I’ve noticed a growing trend of reversing this phrase. Many people talk about how their perception is reality. I perceive that Bob is a total jerk, so therefore Bob is a total jerk. Somehow we’ve reasoned that if we perceive it then that’s how it is, which can be a dangerous practice. I’ve seen many relationships wrecked, and many ministry opportunities missed, because of this thought process.

When I was in a seminary I had an internship at a church. My first week I was reamed up and down by a church member. This experience devastated me. In my mind I was faced with two possibilities: either this person was a total jerk, or I was already failing at my job. I explained the situation to the Senior Pastor, who alerted me to the reality. This gentleman was a fantastic guy, but he was experiencing a rough patch in life. He worked on Wall Street, and had recently engaged in a common contract negation tactic in which he threatened to quit unless he received a certain raise. His company responded by summarily walking him out the door. He had a family, a mortgage on an expensive home, a car payment, etc., and felt like his world was crumbling. The Pastor explained that his outburst likely had little to do with me, and that I should be patient with the man and add him to my prayers. Sure enough, the man ended up being one of my most adamant supporters, and I came to have a great relationship with him. If I would have simply perceived that this man was a jerk I would have missed out on a great relationship.

Many of the astutely religious folks of Jesus’ day fell into this perception-reality trap. They perceived that since Jesus spent time with notorious sinners that he too must be a notorious sinner. The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:30-32. They completely missed the reality of who Jesus was. He was spending his time with notorious sinners not because he was one, but because he desired to save them.

What are we missing in our lives by thinking that our perception is reality? Are we hurting our relationships? Are we missing opportunities to serve others? Are we failing to see people the way God created them? Instead of always going with our perception lets approach others with the type of love, patience, and acceptance that Jesus has always shown.

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