Author Archives: Andy Baker

Stop Taking it Easy

For years I really wanted a hot tub. However, being married to a very practical and stingy woman (her words!) put such a luxurious purchase out of reach. However, I discovered that there is a small window of time in which her frugality vanishes: pregnancy. Yes, months of sleep deprivation have an amazing way of wearing her down. Her first pregnancy led to the purchase of a Swiss crafted mattress, made of space-age materials, because she wanted a good night’s sleep. Pregnancy number two netted me (err, us) the elusive hot tub. She used it for about two weeks, but I found myself using it every day for several years. I loved just sitting there for 20 minutes or more, especially on cold winters nights (we lived near Green Bay, WI at the time). Then, one day, the hot tubbroke. The repair was going to be very expensive, and we had moved and no long had a good place for it. Suddenly, I had 30 minutes of extra time, which I soon started using to exercise instead of simply sitting in a hot tub. I ended up losing around 100 pounds and getting healthier then I had ever been in my life. I often joke that our hot tub breaking was one of the best things that has ever happened to me!

I share this because I think a lot of us have a relationship with God that is spent in the comfort and ease of a “hot tub.” We attend things that make us feel good: worship services, men’s groups, fun retreats, Christian concerts, etc. We may even read Christian books and devotions, especially if they entertain us. Now, all of those things are not only good, but they are necessary parts of our faith (just like relaxation is a necessary part of our health). The problem is when we spend all of our time on these sorts of things and not on doing things that are more difficult, but equally (if not more) important. These can be things such as sharing faith with a neighbor, spending your valuable time to serve in a new way, or taking on that challenge you’ve felt God’s nudging you towards, but you’ve been afraid to accept it. Are we missing out on opportunities to make an impact for God because we’ve gotten to comfortable?

There is a great example of this in God’s call of Gideon. Gideon was a man of faith, but he was very much sitting in the hot tub. In a time of great trial for his people he had stayed home and had reaped many benefits. But then God appeared to him and said: Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Judges 6:14.

See, God has given us all strength and ability not merely for our own enjoyment, but so that we can be a blessing to others. This week, let’s ask ourselves if there are ways we need to step “out of the hot tub” in our lives in order to use the strength God has given us to impact the world.

Follow Me: Forgiveness

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing about the importance of following Jesus. I initially planned for this to be a three-week series, but then the following verse caught my eye, mind, and heart this week. It reminded me that perhaps the area of our lives where we most struggle to follow Jesus is in forgiving others. 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 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. Ephesians 4:31-5:2. 

In my ministry career I’m not sure I’ve seen a teaching of Jesus that people would like to use a bottle of white-out on more than the command to forgive others. Virtually everyone I meet (myself unfortunately included) is quite sure they have found a boatload of exceptions to the command to forgive others. We all have those situations and people we are sure we wronged us in an unforgivable way. Yet, Scripture is REALLY clear that we are to offer forgiveness to others, even if we need to do it 7×70 times. Here are two big reasons for us to continually extend forgiveness and grace to others, even when it is INCREDIBLY hard to do so. 

  1. Because a life of grace is better than a life without forgiveness. Paul uses some powerful words in today’s scripture, words like bitterness, wrath, and anger. Be honest: do you really want those things in your life? While almost all of us answer no, we choose to let all of those things fester in our lives because we choose to not forgive others. Let me share a dirty little secret I’ve learned over the years: those who don’t forgive often suffer more than those who committed the sin. The sinner moves on with their life, while we let bitterness, wrath, and anger eat away at us. When we show grace to others we release all that bitterness, wrath, and anger from our lives.
  2. Because we follow the example of Jesus. Did you know there has only ever been one person truly capable of judging the sins of the world? That person was Jesus, who because He was the sinless Son of God had the right to judge all people. So how did he use that power? He chose to offer forgiveness. Jesus had all the power in the world, and he chose to forgive each of us infinitely. That’s the example that has been set for us to follow. How can we honestly accept Jesus’ infinite forgiveness of our sins, while simultaneously holding the sins of others over their heads? We need to follow Christ’s example, showing love, grace, and forgiveness, even when it’s difficult. 

Follow Me: Following Jesus Changes us Completely

One day I took my car in for service here in Managua and, for the first time in my life, I actually arrived early. Because the garage was not yet open I drove around the area for a bit to kill time. As I drove around I turned onto a random street, and all of a sudden found myself completely surrounded by police and armed guards. There were large barriers set-up, regularly uniformed police, riot police, SWAT police, you name it. I pretty quickly figured out I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, so I spun around and got out of there. Later I discovered I had turned into the neighborhood of our president (he has decided the Presidential Palace is not sufficient for him, so he lives in a neighborhood). No wonder it was guarded so well. 

That image of all those barricades, police, and guards protecting the presidential mansion reminds me of how we guard certain areas of our lives from God. We passionately follow God in some areas, especially when we are at church, in our small group, or serving in a ministry. Yet, we have other parts of our lives we’ve pretty much declared are a “no go zone” for God. When we are with certain friends our language and behavior totally change. When we are at work we’re willing to bend a few ethical rules as long as we get ahead. In our private life, when no one is watching, we do numerous things we know are not only not God-glorifying, but flat out sinful. We know we should give more time to serving God, but we’ve got huge amounts of time on our calendar that are well guarded from Him. My question to us is: what parts of our lives are we keeping God out of, and why? 

“Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:20-22

We often make this verse all about money, but it’s about way more than that. What is happening here is that Jesus is telling the young man that in order to truly follow Him he needs to follow with his WHOLE life. He can’t keep certain parts of his life militantly guarded from God, but instead needs to follow Jesus in every part of his life. The young man chooses not to follow Jesus because he is unwilling to let God into his financial and business life. Jesus wants us to trust Him with everything. And really, when we think about it, doesn’t that make a lot more sense than trusting ourselves or the world? This week, let’s examine our lives and discover those places that we’ve kept God out of. Let’s drop our guard and truly start following God in each and every part of our lives. 

Follow Me: We Follow Jesus in Everything

Many years ago my friend Erik went on a vacation with his friend Tom (not their real names). After a week in Colorado, they began their return trip to Des Moines. Tom offered to drive the first leg, as Erik had not gotten much sleep the night before. A couple of hours into the trip Erik woke up and asked Tom how it was going. Tom reported that everything was going great, and that they were making such great time that they had passed Cheyenne, Wyoming about 30 minutes before. That’s right, they had been driving in the wrong direction! Erik soon got Tom turned abound, and they headed back towards Iowa. About an hour later Erik fell asleep again. He once again woke up a few hours later and asked Tom how they were doing. Tom apologized for going the wrong way earlier, and said he had been driving extra fast to make up time. In fact, they were doing so well that they were almost to…New Mexico! This time Erik was smart enough to kick Tom out of the driver’s seat and to drive the rest of the way back to Iowa himself. 

I share this crazy story because it illustrates a reality we often face. When we let the world control our lives we end up like Erik in this story: we end up all over the map, and seldom do we end up where we really should be. Yet, we so often let the world drive our lives anyway. We listen to others, to social media, to people on TV, to non-Christian friends, and to all sorts of other advice. We end up bouncing all over the map instead of handing the keys over to the one who really knows the way: Jesus. 

One of my favorite scriptures is Jesus’ calling of four of the Disciples: 

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22

Each of these men was faced with a choice. The first choice was that they could do exactly what the world told them was important. They could stay at their jobs, keep living their current lifestyle, and have a relatively safe life. Or, they could take a leap of faith and follow Jesus, who had a plan to use them for a greater purpose. While many of us would likely choose the far easier worldly way, each man IMMEDIATELY chose to follow Jesus. They chose to have the faith to say: Jesus I am trusting you with all the plans for my life. Lead the way! The question for us this week is: who are we following in our lives? Are we following the world and ending up all over the map, or are we entrusting our lives to Jesus? 

Follow Me: Everyone is Invited

Sometimes I can’t stand all the “titles” we Christians come to have. “Member” always seems too formal to me, and it also seems to imply that we belong more to an individual church than to the body of Christ. “Christian” also seems a bit too formal and institutional, though I appreciate it does contain the name of Christ. If I had to pick a title I think I’d go with follower. First, Jesus seemed to be a pretty big fan of the term “follow.” He constantly called people to follow Him, and gave instructions as to what following should look like. Second, I feel like the term follower does a pretty good job of summing up our relationship with Christ. It emphasizes the fact that it’s not us who are in charge of our lives and eternities, but rather Christ who we follow. Over the next three weeks, I want us to spend some time looking at what it means to be a follower of Christ. 

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. Matthew 9:9-13 

Let’s unpack that. Matthew was sitting collecting taxes at what was likely the junction of a major port and a major highway. While I’ve seldom met a person who enjoyed paying taxes, taxes were particularly heinous in Jesus’ day. First, taxes went to the Roman Empire, which had come to occupy Israel by force. Second, the people collecting the taxes were pretty much scoundrels. While they were required to collect a minimum amount of taxes to send to Rome they often charged many times that amount, keeping the rest for themselves. They were quite literally making a fortune off of cheating their fellow Israelites, who subsequently lived in poverty. For this reason, tax collectors like Matthew were seen as the lowest of the low. Probably the only people today viewed as lowly would be those who sexually prey on children. That’s the “level” of sinner Matthew was. 

Yet, look at Jesus’ treatment of Matthew. He takes one look at him and says “follow me.” He doesn’t judge him or mock him, but asks him to follow without a hint of hesitation. 

Here’s the point I want us all to get: It doesn’t matter who you are, Jesus wants you to follow Him. Dwell on that for a moment. No test, no giant quest, no firey hoops to jump through. Just follow me. Don’t miss out on the invitation! It’s an invitation to live WITH Jesus now and for eternity. An invitation for a blessed life and a perfect eternity. I fear that far too often we feel that we are inadequate to follow Jesus. That we’re not righteous enough, intelligent enough, or experienced enough to serve Him as a follower, disciple, and leader. But when we look at this scripture it should become clear that such thinking is totally wrong. Jesus invites ALL OF US, regardless of our failings, to be His followers. Let’s not turn down His invitation. 

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