Author Archives: Andy Baker

Why We Live Right

I’ve learned that I need to have a compelling reason to do something difficult, or else I’m unlikely to do it very long. I studied Spanish in school, but I really saw little point to it. It was difficult learning those gnarly conjugation rules and scores of vocab, and I found little reason to pour myself into it. For much of my life I didn’t see the point to eating in a healthy fashion. Pizza, bacon cheeseburgers, and Mt. Dew were plenty fine for me. No need for that abhorrable “green stuff” (except the aforementioned Mt. Dew). Yet, today I speak Spanish every day (albeit far from fluently) and I maintain a relatively healthy diet and exercise regiment (having lost well over a hundred pounds). Why was I able to make such big changes? Because I came to understand how important it was to make them. When my church began working with three Spanish speaking churches in Nicaragua I realized I needed to learn Spanish so that I could lead and minister effectively. When my blood pressure spiked and my health was slipping in many ways I understood I needed to change my diet or risk my long-term health. Once I understood the reason and purpose for behaving in a certain way I became much more dedicated to acting in that way.

I feel that a major reason many of us fall into perpetual sin in our lives is that we don’t always comprehend why we are supposed to be following God’s ways. Why is it really such a big deal to be nice? Why do I have to forgive that jerk in my office? Why do I have to give of my time and money for others? This past week I was reading through Titus and came upon this verse, which really clarified for me why we NEED to live lives that are pure and righteous.

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. Titus 1:15-16

While none of us will ever be sinless, we can all be living a life closer to the purity and righteousness of Jesus. We do this so we do not defile the many good things God has put in our life. We love and respect our wife to maintain the integrity and purity of our marriage. We speak the truth and use our words in a positive way so that our words bear fruit instead of causing chaos. And we do good works in our lives not to earn rewards, prestige, or warm fuzees, but to profess our love for God. We follow God’s commands so that we may bring the maximum amount of honor and love into the world while minimizing the amount of detestable disobedience. Always remember, we are following God’s ways not simply “because,” but so that we may bring honor and glory to Him and His Kingdom.

Why We Serve

Until this year I’ve spent my entire adult life on church staffs. A struggle faced in every church I’ve been on is motivating people to serve. I’ve witnessed the frustration of children’s directors who receive ten no’s in a row for Sunday School positions, and I’ve jumped into action as a Sunday School teacher, nursery volunteer, usher, greeter, cook, and parking attendant when someone failed to show. I can’t even imagine what percent of leadership meetings I’ve been in dealing with the struggle to find volunteers. I grew VERY frustrated with people who always seemed to say no to service opportunities. Yet, now that I’m not on a church staff, I see where people are coming from when they turn down opportunities. When I’m now asked to give up MY time to church I am filled with all sorts of excuses: I need family time, I need free time, my job is stressful enough, I don’t want to get involved in “church politics,” and so on.

This has led me to really reflect on why it is we serve, which is something I feel we all need to think about. This is not to say we always have to say yes (indeed, sometimes no is the correct answer), but it is to say we need to understand why we serve and when and why we do need to say YES. Here is what Paul says to Titus about why he has chosen to serve:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his Word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. Titus 1:1-3

Let’s look at three practical things Paul tells us here about why we are to serve:

To make Others Better: First, Paul says that he is a servant for the sake of God’s people (the elect). Paul understood that God desires all of us to be making other people better. Then can range from teaching and mentoring them to simply offer them prayer and encouragement. Are you regularly serving by making others better, or do you need to search out new opportunities?

To spread the Good News: Paul talks about sharing the hope of eternal life. Do you ever reflect on what you are doing in your life so help spread the Good News? ALL of us have a role to play in sharing the hope of eternal life. The key is to figure out what are role is and to say YES to it.

Because we’ve been entrusted and commanded: Not only has God commanded us to serve, but he has entrusted us with both the ability to serve and His faith in our ability. If God has entrusted and commanded us to serve Him, who are we to say no?

I went through this awesome stage of life where my body periodically decided breathing was an optional biological function. My lungs would jet off to Hawaii for the weekend, and I’d get to have a nice little party at the local hospital. During one of these lovely episodes (also known as asthma) I found myself hooked up to some truly fantastic O2 in the hospital watching the Major League All-Star game. In the olden days hospitals didn’t exactly have great TV packages, so I felt fortunate to have something as good as the All-Star game to watch. In a pretty solid game the AL came back from a 4-0 deficit, and the game was knotted at 7 after nine innings. In the middle of the 11th inning, with the game still tied, the two managers and league commission held their own summit meeting along the first base-line. They decided that if the inning ended tied the game would simply end, finishing in an unprecedented tie. Despite a near riot from the fans that’s exactly what happened. I was furious, first because there are three major no’s in baseball: no crying, no PEDs, and no ties! Second, there was absolutely nothing else on TV, which seemed like a pretty major problem at the time. 

In many ways Jesus’ death on the cross is the run that ties the game between life and death, light and darkness, and good and evil. His death pays the debt for all us sinners, a debt payable only by death. The debt is paid on the cross, but the power of death is not yet defeated. In Jesus’ day resurrection was such an out there idea that even the most zealously religious people believed that not even God could resurrect the dead. One could perhaps earn a tie with death (like Elijah, who simply rode into Heaven), but there was no coming back and defeating death. That’s why Easter is such a big deal. Not only did Jesus die to pay our debt, He came back on the third day. He hit a walk-off grand slam that forever beat back the power of death. Because Jesus both died for our sins and was resurrected death is no longer something that can defeat us, nor is it something we should fear. Here’s how Paul’s puts it in Romans 6:5-8:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  

We celebrate Easter because God is so loving as to die on the cross for our sins, AND so powerful as to defeat death and rise again. By his love and power there will be no loss or tie for those who confess and believe, but only a perfect eternity in Heaven. 

What About MY Life?

As we head towards the death of Jesus this week, and his subsequent Resurrection, I can’t help but think of the things that led to Jesus’ death. Yes, Jesus’ death was not only part of God’s divine plan, with the details painstakingly revealed in Scripture for centuries. What I want us to reflect on today is how God chose Jesus’ death to occur. It did not occur in a vacuum, but happened in a very specific way we can learn a lot from. Jesus was killed because he upset the teachings, positions, and preferences of the religious leaders of his day. He teaches were firmly rooted in scripture, but many scriptures had not been lived out by the religious leadership. Specifically, Jesus called out the fact that what they preached was often true, but how they lived their lives was far from God’s plan. Check out his rebuke to them, as well as his instructions: 

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:2-12

There is a lot to touch on here, but lets look at two key points. 

  1. Read, speak, and do God’s Word: Jesus is making the point that we have to read God’s Word, teach and share it, and live it out. If I’m honest with myself, I often struggle to live out this “trifecta.” There are times where I’m good at reading and speaking, but my daily life does not exactly exalt God. Other times I’m an ok servant, but I don’t really engage in God’s Word. Its not enough to just be doing one or two of these. We need to strive to strive to live out all three. 
  2. Humility matters: There is not a better example of humility then Jesus. God CHOOSES to take on our flesh (whose various frailties and ailments we incessantly complain about) to not only be with us, but to DIE FOR US. As God humbled himself to serve us we are called to humbly serve others. Honestly, this is a pretty uncomplicated teaching when you really think about it. We not called to tackle a list of 4,596 things for God. We are simply asked to serve others in the way God modeled humility and service to us. Is that hard? Absolutely! But was it hard to give up heaven for death on a cross? We need to all start approaching all of life with an attitude of humility and a heart for service, just as Jesus so powerfully did for us. 

Real Humility

If I’ve seen one sports post-game interview I’ve seen them all. It seems as if every victorious athlete gives the same response to the sideline reporter: the other team played great, I could not have done it without my teammates, a huge thanks to my coach, and all the credit to God. All really great responses. But, is that really how the athlete feels? So many times I hear an athlete give those responses, only to read later in the week that they are ridiculing the other team, bashing their teammates, begging management to fire their coach, and taking all the glory for their accomplishments. It seems that most athletes know they are supposed to act humbly in the post-game interview, yet forget to live a life of humility the rest of the week.

My point here is not to pick on athletes because, quite honestly, most of us are no better {and, to be clear, there are some truly humble athletes who make exceptional role models}. We know we are supposed to act humbly, so we try hard to give humble answers and to appear humble in public. But, in our hearts and minds, we often are far from humble. We are prideful, self-focused, view ourselves above others, and have a very me-first attitude. We seem to excel at acting humble, but struggle at actually being humble.

What does it actually mean to be humble? The word humble comes form the Latin word for dirt. Its origin is in Genesis, where God creates humanity from the dirt. To be humble is to acknowledge that we are all dirt. We are all creatures that have been created by God and have fallen into sin. In fact, the giftedness and goodness that we do have is not of our doing, but the Spirit working in and through us. Therefore, we really have no reason to see ourselves any better then anyone else. The best example we have of humility is the life of Christ, as Paul points out in Philippians 2:8: And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Jesus, God in the flesh, was the only one to ever walk this earth that was not dirt. He was not created from the dirt, and was not sinful, but instead was fully God. Yet, despite his divinity, he chose to lower himself for us. He chose to value you and I above himself by suffering and dying on the cross to pay our debts. That is the ultimate example of humility.

I want us to all ask ourselves this question: am I living humbly, or am I simply acting humbly? Am I putting the needs of others equal to/above my own, as Christ did, or am I living for myself? This week lets follow Christ’s lead and truly live a humble life.

 

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