Author Archives: Andy Baker

Special Access?

I used to help organize an event featuring a major Christian recording artist. Every year I would have many people pleading with me for special access to this famous individual. When I would explain that was not possible, as the artist’s contract was very specific on such matters, I heard all sorts of rationales about why I should make an exception. People were quick to remind me about previous favors they had done me, the amount of hours they had volunteered, their various leadership roles, a specific difficulty they had in life, etc. Everyone, it seemed, had a reason for why they deserved special treatment. We are often like this in life. We think that because we have worked so hard, accomplished certain things, suffered through certain situations, and the life that we deserve to be rewarded in some way. But, is that really how things work?

One day a group of people approached Jesus. They sought Jesus help for a local Centurion (a solider in charge of 100 other soldiers), whose son was in grave condition. The individuals, who were community leaders themselves, tried to convince Jesus of the worthiness of the Centurion. They mentioned his love for Israel, his work rebuilding the Temple, and his position of authority. Jesus followed the leaders to the Centurion’s house, but before he arrived the Centurion sent messengers telling Jesus:

Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Luke 7:6-8

Here are two big learnings from this scripture:

Faith matters more than titles and accomplishments: What impressed Jesus was not the Centurion’s rank, accomplishments, or popularity, it was his faith in the power and love of Jesus. What is interesting is that throughout history other religions have made their gods the gods of the rich and powerful. The more power and prestigious you had the more access you had to divine benefits. Jesus is saying that God does not care about all of that, what God cares about is our sincere love and faith towards him.

God’s accomplishments, not ours: Here is this Centurion, who has every right to think he deserves special treatment, approaching Jesus in humility. You see, the Centurion understood that when it comes to the miraculous it is God that provides, not us. It is God that graciously gives us salvation, not us that earn it. It is God who bestows our gifts, talents, and blessings, things that he planned out before we were born. For this reason we see Jesus recruiting tax collectors, fishermen, notorious sinners, and the like to his inner circle. What matters most to God is not our worldly accomplishments, but our faith and willingness to truly follow Him.

Getting Rid of Jesus

I had a surreal experience this week. I spent roughly 15 minutes getting rid of Jesus. Yep, you read that write. We recently purchased a truck that had a giant sticker of a crucified Jesus on the back window. While I’m not a sticker guy, and I was not the biggest fan of the looks of this particular sticker, I felt awkward getting rid of Jesus. When a friend told us some of the signals that having such a sticker sent I knew it was time to remove it (some cultural issues related to our Nicaraguan context). So, there I was, spending 15-minutes literally ripping Jesus off my truck. As I did this I had a few thoughts:

  1. Rejecting Jesus is easier then removing a sticker from your car. We reject Jesus so often, and we don’t even give it a second thought. We don’t follow scripture as we should, we don’t always love our neighbor, and we too often follow the world over Christ. Every time we sin we are rejecting the ways of Jesus.
  2. Receiving Jesus is easier then putting a sticker on your car. This was quite a large and intricate sticker, not simply a one-piece bumper sticker. It would have taken some time, effort, planning, and hard-work to put it on correctly. Yet, receiving eternal life in a perfect Heaven is perhaps even easier. I John 1:9 sums up the process perfectly: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. See, all the time, effort, planning, suffering, and “heavy lifting” for our salvation has already been done by Christ. The thing we most need, eternal life, we don’t have to earn, but are given as a gift because of Jesus’ love and grace. Its so amazing to me that something so great and eternal has been given to us at such a huge cost to Jesus.
  3. You can never truly get rid of Jesus. This is the best news! Regardless of our sinfulness Jesus can never be fully removed from our lives.                         I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:35-37                                                When we fall He is there to catch us. When we struggle He is there to support us. When we are lost He is there to guide us. Most importantly, He has already permanently paid the price for our sin. Sin and death have been conquered on the Cross for all those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Being Ready for the Rain

Final part of a four week series on Prospering in the Drought, based on the life of the prophet Elijah 

There is a lot written about how to get through difficult moments in our lives, but there seems to be little written about what we do when the difficulty finally passes.  I recently read a book by a pro-cyclist, detailing his journey from amateur to pro. His path was filled with difficulty: brutal workouts, getting fired from teams, working for $2,000 a year (necessitating living out of his car), his father developing terminal cancer, his fiance cheating on him, and dozens of bike crashes so harrowing that reading about them made me queasy. Throughout it all he had to make a choice. He could give up, he could constantly lament his situation, or he could put his head down and work as hard as possible so could thrive once the difficulties passed. He chose to keep working and striving, and when the difficulties passed he thrived at an incredibly high level, becoming a top-level pro-cyclist. Here’s the big question. Will YOU  be ready to thrive for God when the difficulty in your life passes? The answer is often no. We often get so lost in our difficulties that we fail to continue connecting with God and growing in our faith during those periods. Instead of getting stronger and better, we get weaker. We may GET THROUGH the difficulty, but we’re not ready to THRIVE when it passes. 

The past three weeks I’ve been following the experiences of Elijah in 1 Kings 17-18. Elijah experienced one difficulty after another during a three year famine in Israel. Finally, after three years this happens:

“Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’”  1 Kings 18:44

After all the difficulties the thing Elijah has been waiting for is finally on its way. I absolutely love the excitement we see from him in this next part:

And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. 1 Kings 18:46

Elijah was so excited and ready for the rain that he, a relatively old man, hikes up his robe and runs faster then the King’s chariot for a distance equal to a half-marathon. Here’s the question: what are you doing in times of difficulty so you are ready to out run the chariot? In other words, what are you doing when life is tough to connect to God, grow in your faith, and to prepare to serve Him? To not just survive difficulty, but to be ready to thrive for God? Don’t let moments of difficulty take you out of fulling serving God long after the difficulty passes. 

 

Thriving in a Drought: Use What You Have

Part 3 of a four part series based on 1 Kings 17 

Throughout my life I’ve rarely been satisfied by what I have. I may have had a Nintendo, but I wanted the latest game. I may have been a good student, but I wanted to be as smart as someone else. My ministry may have been going well, but I really wished it could be a little more like the church over there. Now, the positive aspect is that a hunger to do better can drive us to better develop our skills, getting the most out of our lives and abilities. Drive and motivation are certainly good things. However, I sometimes are longings to be like others, or to achieve certain goals we set for ourselves, lead us to miss something very important, and that is what we already have in our lives.

As we continue to follow the ministry of the prophet Elijah I am very struck by the following incident. For months Elijah has been living by a stream being fed by birds. FINALLY God tells him he can move on and live in a house in a village. When he arrives he discovers that his new caretaker has only the most minimal of resources: a little oil, a little flour, and some sticks.

“Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 1 Kings 17:11-14

The woman thought there was little she could do because she had so little, but Elijah taught her to trust the Lord to bless and use what she did have. Friends, I think that’s one of the most important lessons we can learn in life. Instead of lamenting that we can’t sing like someone else, get a yield from our field like our neighbor, materially provide for our family like others, or preach like our favorite preacher, we need to fully trust God with what we do have. What gifts, skills, possessions, and passions do you have? Are you really trusting God to bless and use them? Instead of lamenting all that you lack, start rejoicing in what you have, and begin fully entrusting God to use it, as he used just a few sticks, a little oil, and a pinch of flour.

Thriving in a Drought: Seeing God’s Love

For the next few weeks I want us thinking about how we can thrive during the dry seasons of our lives. Last week I talked about how we really have only two choices in times of difficulty: we can trust God, or we cannot. This week I want us to open our eyes to see God’s love throughout our lives, not only in times we think of as good.

When I graduated seminary I accepted a call to a church as a youth pastor. From the beginning this call was fraught with difficulty. My wife and I did not agree on this position, and the interim youth pastor made it clear that they would have been a better choice than me. If those conditions were not stressful enough, I walked into my first church board meeting to discover the church was in the midst of MAJOR conflict. I remember getting home and thinking “what have we gotten ourselves into!” Just a few weeks later I got really sick and needed emergency surgery as my appendix was about to burst. Just four days after getting out of the hospital, our family was involved in a roll-over accident on an ice-covered road in Minnesota. We totaled our car and ended up in the emergency room, but fortunately were all relatively ok.

At this point I was wondering aloud “Lord, where are you?!?” The answer was that God was right, there loving me every moment. In fact, if I was still and reflected upon it, God’s love was everywhere. He was there directing my hand in ministry through difficulty. He was there helping me through surgery, and He was most certainly there protecting my family in the accident. His love was all over the place, I was just choosing to ignore it.

Here is a perfect example of God’s love at works in the life of the prophet Elijah, who God lovingly protected during five years of drought:

You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:4-6

Now, do you think this is how Elijah would have wanted to spend the drought? No! He would have preferred a castle with an all you can eat buffet. Instead, he was fed out of the mouths of birds (every reflect on how gross that would be?). While it may not have been what he wanted, God was loving him through the drought. It is the same with us. Things may not always be how we want them to be, but God is still loving us. He still provides, still teaches via his Word, and most importantly, still graciously forgives us. In the difficulties of our lives we need to pause and see that God’s love is still present in SO MANY WAYS in our lives and eternities.

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