Author Archives: Andy Baker

Taking Real Advice

I’ve been back in the US the past two weeks, and among the highlights has been getting to go to bookstores. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer a paper book to an e-book, and the selection of English books in Nicaragua tends to be slim (and it takes me about five times as long for me to read in Spanish). As I’ve pursued book stores the past two weeks I’ve noticed that the shelves are chocked full of self-help books, presumably aimed squarely at the 40% of Americans who make New Years resolutions each year. You can find advice on everything from weight loss, to exercise, to dating, keys to a better marriage, to how to live like a movie star, without actually being one. Given The sheer volume of self-help titles it should be of little surprise that the “advice” industry raked in over $11 BILLION last year. It’s therefore quite clear that many of us are looking for advice and guidance in life, and are indeed willing to pay mightily for it. But, are we really looking in the right places?

Much of the Book of Acts focuses on the attempts by the Apostles to evangelize cities throughout the Roman Empire. In Acts 17 Paul is evangelizing the city of Berea, where the people look to two different sources for advice:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Acts 17:11-13

One group in Berea chose to follow the advice of “experts” from Thessalonica, who passionately proclaimed that the Apostles were nothing more than charlatans and heretics. Another group, however, chose to check Paul’s claims with the scriptures. Finding his teachings on Jesus to be inline with the promised Messiah, they joyfully accepted the Good News of Jesus.

There will never be a shortage of sources trying to give us advice: authors, TV and radio personalities, public figures, friends, social media, advertisements and more. At the end of the day we need to remember that there is only one source that is perfect, infallible, and True, and that is the Bible. Instead of chasing after all of these other sources we need to always turn to God’s Word and the guidance it gives us. This year let’s make the Bible our primary source of guidance and advice.

Never Ending Christmas

Christmas at my house has a shelf life of about two days. Christmas day is full of excitement, as our young children are often out of bed and bubbling over with excitement around 4:30am (new rule: no waking up mom and dad before 6:30am, or there will be no presents!). The present opening tends to take a couple of hours, interspersed with breakfast, snacks, and pictures. Once the present are all opened the kids become singularly focused on their new toys and games. By about noon on December 27th, however, the new “stuff” has lost its excitement and newness, and the children are back to constantly uttering their two favorite phrases “I’m bored” and “there is nothing to do!” Yep, the joy of that Christmas morning seems to last only about 48 hours before it loses all significance.

That begs the following questions: what is shelf-life of the joy of Christmas in our lives? How long is it before the significance of Christmas is replaced by our worldly wants and concerns? There is a story in scripture that does a great job addressing these questions. It happens eight days after Jesus is born. Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph for a moment. All of these amazing things happen in a short period of time: angels appear to them, they have this crazy journey to Bethlehem (including giving birth in a barn), random shepherds show up, more angels appear, and they now have the Son of God as their son. Now THAT’S a Christmas! Yet, eight days later, you have to wonder whether or not the wonder of it all has given way to the stress of raising a baby. And so it is that Mary and Joseph fulfill their religious duty and bring their eight day old to the Temple. There they encounter two different people, Simeon and Anna, who explain to them how significant their son really is. You can read the whole account in Luke 2:25-40, but let me give you the highlights. These are three ways in which Simeon and Anna point out the significant Christmas should have to all of us every single day.

  1. Jesus gives us salvation: Jesus came on Christmas not simply to teach us, but to save us for all eternity. Without Christmas we would be headed for death and hell, but because God came to us in that stable we may have life everlasting!
  2. Jesus provides guidance for our decisions: Because God came to earth in the form of Jesus we have received MASSIVE amounts of advice and guidance direct from God. What a significant treasure that is, and one we need to do a better job of listening to. 
  3. Jesus changes our worldview: Jesus didn’t come for just a few believers, but for the entire world. This should challenge us to think beyond ourselves and our churches, and to think about those who need Christ throughout our world. 

This year, lets not allow the joy of Christmas to be a 48 hour thing, but rather, something we celebrate and remember all year long. 

Prepping for Christmas

Recently I’ve reflected on some of the big things I’ve prepared myself for in my life. In college I had to write and defend a senior thesis, which I started the first day of classes, and poured myself into until the day I defended it. I read over 20 books, met with a professor an hour each week to discuss its progress, went through many re-writes, and had several others give me feedback. It was a ton of work, but it all paid off. As an athlete, I’ve also learned the value of preparation. The more work I put in during the months leading up to a big race the more prepared I feel. I love getting to the finishing stretch, seeing my time is going to be right on target, and still having energy in the tank.

A question we ask ourselves too little during the holiday season is:  what do we need to do to prepare ourselves for Christmas. To prepare for Christmas means that we take steps in our lives to turn our attention from all the worldly hustle and bustle to focus on God. Jeremiah 29:13 puts it this way: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. This means that we need to truly take the time to reflect on what it is God did for us that Christmas night two millennia ago, and indeed what He continues to do for us.

What does this look like? Well, it can take a lot of different forms, but let me give you a few examples. 

  1. Spend time in deep prayer: I’m not talking about “God, bless this food, Amen.” I’m talking about blocking out 15 minutes or more to really spend time with God. Share what’s going on in your life: the good and the bad. Share what you need, and be open to how God may move you to meet the needs of others. Let God’s love pour over you, and remember how much he cares about your life and eternity. 
  2. Get into scripture: Read about Christmas and Easter in scripture. Don’t just read the words, but think about what God was up to. Here is God, the creator and sustainer of all things, chasing to leave heaven to be with us and to die for us. Are you letting the significance 
  3. Spend time in silence: Ok, we’re guys so we probably all dread such an exercise. But seriously gents, we need to spend some time in silence contemplating what God has done for us, what He is calling us to do, and we are (or are not) responding to that call in life. We need to really reflect on how our walk with God is, and be ready to make changes if we need to. 

Want to really get the most out of Christmas this year? Then put in the preparation this week. You’ll be glad you did! 

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.

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