Author Archives: Andy Baker

What Really Matters?

As many of you know, my family is in the process of moving to the mission field in Nicaragua. This means that a disproportionally large part of our life is currently spent cleaning and packing our house. Now, we’ve moved several times in our lives, but this move is different. Instead of getting a moving truck to lug all of our possessions to our new home we get a whopping eight suitcases (friends in Nicaragua saying the success rate on shipping packages is about 33%). While we will have a storage unit in the US anything we put into storage will not likely be used in four years, making the test for storing something “will we actually want this in four years?” The sum of all this is that A LOT of stuff is making its way to Mount Mahaska (for the uninitiated, that’s the local landfill). As I load things into garbage bags I think of the money some of these items originally cost. In the case of old TVs and computers we are talking about things that once cost hundreds of dollars simply being discarded. Things that at one point in life where a “must have” will soon find their home in a garbage heap. This experience has really forced me to reflect on the question: what really matters in the long run?

That question really begs another question: what is it that should really matter in our lives? Paul addresses this very question in his letter to the Philippians.
For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. Philippians 1:10-11

As I’ve reflected on that question I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve spent way too much time, money, and energy in life on things that really do not matter. I’ve spent way more money on stuff then I needed too, and significantly less on blessing others. I’ve spent way too much time trying to impress others or make myself feel good, instead of spending time glorifying God and investing in others. What Paul is telling us is what REALLY matters in life is understanding that we are saved by God’s grace and living our lives in light of that salvation. That means we should be seeking to make an impact on the world around us for God, speaking his gospel, love, and service to those around us.

While you may not be moving this week, I’d really encourage you to take stock of yourself. Are you spending too much time, money, and energy on things that are truly not important? Do you need to invest more for God and his glory?

Relationships without the Conditions

I have been thinking a lot about relationships lately, whether that be marriage, friendships, parenting, working with co-workers, etc. As I’ve thought about it, I think I’ve put my finger on two of the most dangerous words we use in relationships. Now, don’t worry, they aren’t curse words! However, I think they can do more danger to relationships then a curse-ridden tirade. The words? If and but. Such small simple words, yet in relationships they can create all sorts of problems. “I would help you, if you were nicer to me.” “I would love to help you with that problem, but you have not really been that nice to me lately.” It seems many of us, myself included, are willing to do many great things in a relationship, as long as certain conditions are met.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. There are certainly times in relationships where using such conditional phrases can be appropriate {i.e. when we are teaching our children or assisting someone in conquering a bad habit or addiction}. When it comes to the core of what relationships should be about, showing love, care, and making one another better, we need to take our lead from Jesus and drop the ifs and buts.

Checkout these two verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded.
Philippians 2:1-2

Look at all the things Christ gives us when we are in relationship with him: comfort, love, the Spirit, tenderness, and compassion. We can add to that list joy, peace, hope, eternal life, and so much more. When we are in relationship with Christ we are given so many awesome things, no ifs or buts about it. Jesus does not say “I will give you encouragement this week, if you do 73 good things” or “I would comfort you, but when you were six you stole a piece of candy from Wal-Mart.” The only condition with Christ is believing in Him and confessing our sins to Him. When we do that He freely gives us so many amazing things that make us better now and for all eternity.

As you go about your many relationships this week take special notice of how often you are being conditional with your love for others. Christ has chosen to freely give so much love and care to us despite our many flaws and sins. He has chosen to focus on making us better in this life and for all eternity. Let’s start doing the same in our relationships, having the same mind as Christ Jesus. Let’s strive to make others better, no if’s or buts about it, just has Christ has made us better.Un

In Need of a Light

I’m going to man up and admit that, fifteen years ago this month, I totally botched my proposal to my wife. It was working at Inspiration Hills, a Christian camp in northwest Iowa, and I had been planning “the perfect proposal” for quite some time. When Andrea came for the weekend I took her on a hike, leading her to a large hill outside of camp. From this hill you could see Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and at pinnacle was a large cross. When we got to the cross I knelt on one knee, said something romantic, and reached for the ring… which I could not find in the dark! No problem I thought, I’ll just grab my flashlight and find it…except I couldn’t find my flashlight either! So here I am, at what should be the most romantic moment of my life, flaying around on my hands and knees trying to find the flashlight, while apologizing profusely for ruining the proposal. Andrea kindly joined me in the search and soon {although it felt like an eternity} we were able to find the flashlight. Within seconds of turning on the flashlight we were able to spot the ring and I could finish the proposal. Thankfully {and gracefully} she still said yes, and fifteen years later we remain happily married.

It’s hard to find anything in the dark, let alone something tiny like a ring. Likewise, it’s difficult to correctly find our way in the world without someone to guide us. Its certainly not because the world doesn’t try to direct us. It seems like, more then ever, the world is trying to lead us down all sorts of negative and dark pathways. Yet, there is really only one who can correctly show us how to navigate life, and that is Jesus Christ. John 1:4-5 explains it like this:

In him {Jesus} was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Just as I would have likely never found that ring without a flashlight we are unlikely to correctly navigate life without following the light of Christ. See, Jesus not only came to earth to save us, but to lay out a blueprint for how to live life. His earthly life, perfectly preserved in scripture, serves as a flashlight illuminating the correct path for us. It is a path that is not always easy, but is the right path for us and those around us. It is a path that includes: showing grace and forgiveness, caring for the poor, living sacrificially, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, following scripture, and standing for God against the sinful ways of the world. May we always be turning to scripture and letting the light of Christ serve as our guide in our dark world.

WHO Are You?

Remember the classic song Who are You? by The Who? It asks a question many of us stare down on a daily basis. We struggle with how we see ourselves, how others see us, and even with how God sees us. Our world is little to no help in this matter. Basically everything we do seems to have a massive effect on our identity. Successful at work? Then you are a success life. Get fired or have a bad season? Then you are a failure in life. The way we dress, every action we take, and even the actions of those around us (employees, family, co-workers, friends, etc.) seem to move the pendulum of our identity. We are thusly constantly trying to insure that people perceive us a certain way, even if that’s not WHO God created us to be. 

I don’t know about you, but every movement of that identity pendulum really stresses me out. I’ve spent so much of my life worried about how others see me, as well as plenty of time struggling with how I view myself. Its a stressful way to live. And here’s the thing: its not how we were created to live. Checkout these two verses:

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
Psalm 139:13-14

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:11-13

Our identity is not something that is not up to us or the world around us, it was decided by God when we were carefully, and purposefully, formed. You may not always like everything about yourself, wishing for less belly, more hair, and a brain that functions at a significantly higher level (well, those are my wants at least!). Yet, you are who God made you to be. And that’s a wonderful thing, for you’ve been made to be a child of God. Think about that: YOU have been created and saved to be part of God’s family forever. God’s pendulum doesn’t change with your every action, but his love for you is steadfast. So, instead of wondering who we are, or complaining about who we seem to be, lets embrace who God made us to be. Because God made us for a reason, and his reason includes how we can uniquely change and impact the world. So, who are you? You are an amazing creation of God created with a purpose that no one else has. Embrace it and live it each and everyday. 

When Your World is Shaken Up

All of us will experience a giant shake-up at some point. We will be striving towards accomplishing plan A when plan Q gets thrown into our path. This can be a death, a sudden illness, an accident, a job loss, a natural disaster, or any number of things that we never dreamed of preparing for. I actually sit writing this in Managua, Nicaragua, where I am spending the week house hunting in preparation for our family serving as missionaries here beginning in July. Trust me when I say that leaving the US to serve in a developing country where we don’t speak the language was not OUR plan A. It was definitely a major shake-up in our lives. Like many other shake-ups I’ve experienced it was also one I really had not prepared my mind for. The question most of us don’t take the time to ask is: what do we do when our world is shaken up? The reality is that ALL of us our going to experience significant shake-ups in our lives, so what do we do when it happens?

I am reminded of a shake-up of astronomical proportions that happened to the Israelites in the Book of Daniel. One day King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, destroying everything that the people had known. Many were carted away to Babylon to be slaves, including Daniel. Now that’s having your world shaken up! There are some things all of us can really learn from the experience of Daniel and the Israelites.

Don’t be surprised by adversity. Specific adversities will surprise us, but the fact that we will face adversity should never shock us. There tend to be four major sources of adversity: sin, our world, Satan, and God. Don’t let adversity surprise you. Develop habits such as prayer, scripture reading, surrounding yourself with Christian supporters and mentors, and trust God in all things. Adversity WILL happen, so prepare for it.

Look for God in adversity. I can’t imagine that many Israelites thought being conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and hauled into slavery was a good thing. Yet, God worked in amazing ways through this adversity. God repeatedly protected his people, and even managed to change the heart of Nebuchadnezzar himself. God’s miraculous saving of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, has given inspiration for thousands of years. When life is shaken up keep your eyes open, because God may act in a major way.

Trust God with what you don’t understand. Do you think Daniel understood why everything was happening as it was? No way! But, he prayerfully trusted God amiss the struggle. While there are many things we won’t understand there is one thing we should always understand perfectly: God overcomes death for us!
I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply
at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. John 16:33

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