Author Archives: Andy Baker

Owning Our Sin

I recently had a friend write a confession on social media. She went into great detail about how she had made a mistake, how that mistake had affected others, what she had done about it, and what she was doing to address the issue in the future. I found such a social media post so refreshing! Lets be honest: social media has become a place for bragging and searching for compliments or for heaping truckloads of judgement on others. To see someone own their own mistake so publically was new and refreshing.

Its not only on social media that we struggle to admit out mistakes and failings Get a speeding ticket? It’s the cop’s fault. Get in trouble at work? Your supervisor is out to get you. We are so quick to pass the blame in life, and very slow to actually admit when we make a mistake. Think about it this way: how many mistakes have you made today? Now, ask yourself this scary question: how many mistakes have you admitted and apologized for? If you are like me the first number is likely MUCH larger than the second number!

I’ve always been amazed by David’s affair with Bathsheba. Here he is, the King and leader of God’s people, and he goes on a sinning spree. He starts by being a peeping Tom, standing on his rooftop checking out women as they bathe. Then, he has the best looking one forcibly brought to him. Soon, she is pregnant, so to cover it up he has her husband killed. Then, a prophet named Nathan is dispatched to confront David with his sins. Remember, this is a totalitarian King. He doesn’t have to listen to anyone. In that day one would expect the King to summarily execute anyone confronting him with something negative. But, that’s not what happens with David.

Here’s what Nathan says to him: This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? II Samuel 12:7-9

And here is David’s IMMEDIATE response: “I have sinned against the Lord.” II Samuel 12:13

Nathan’s response is even more powerful: “The Lord has taken away your sin.” II Samuel 12:13

Like David we all sin, and we all need to hand our sins over to God so that he can forgive them. What sins are you not admitting and confessing to God? Which ones do you need to bring out into the open this week and lay at the foot of the cross? The greatest news of all time is that, like David, God will forgive every wrong you confess.

Difficult Verses: Romans 6:1-6

Over the past few weeks I’ve been sharing some of the difficult and challenging verses we encounter in scripture. Today I want to share some verses that, if we really think about them, should challenge us to our very core. 

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:1-6

Here are three big challenges from this passage: 

  1. We’re not just supposed to carrying on sinning: Sometimes I feel we take advantage of God’s grace. I’ve often heard the phrase (and even thought it myself): oh well, God will forgive me anyway! The theology is right (God will forgive), but the thinking is all wrong. God didn’t save us so that we could just keep on living a life of sin. He saved us to change us both NOW and FOREVER. While God will forgive our continued sinfulness, He expects more from us. He expects us to ditch our old lives of sin to follow Him. He expects us to stop living for ourselves and according to the ways of the world, and instead follow His awesome ways. 
  2. Christ had to die to save us: This is one of those things that’s become such a part of Christian culture that we don’t think about it anymore. But, lets back-up a second and look at this as if we’re hearing it for the first time. This is radical! The only way for us to be saved from the eternal death facing us was by God dying on the Cross as Christ Jesus. This is something WAY beyond our ability to earn, and something God couldn’t just hand us. Instead, God had to suffer and die so that we may live eternally with Him in a perfect Heaven. Do we really take the time to grasp this? Do we sufficiently give God the glory and the honor for this? 
  3. We are something new: Do we really understand what it means to walk in newness of life? God wants something different and greater from each and every one of us. He just doesn’t want us to take the gift of eternal life, go home, and keep it to ourselves. He makes us new to make an impact on our world. He wants us to BEHAVE differently so that our behavior improves the world. He wants us to SERVE others so that our service impacts the world. He wants us to THINK differently, so that our thoughts may be guided by His perfect thoughts. 

Difficult Verses: Mark 6:7-13

Last week we started looking scriptures that are so challenging that we are often tempted to ignore them. I want to continue this journey by looking at how Jesus directly challenges our typical view of leadership. Leadership has become a huge deal in North American culture. Research has shown that American organizations (businesses, churches, schools, etc.) spend over 24.5 BILLION dollars a year on leadership development. Yet, despite spending all this money, a lack of Christian leaders continues to be one of the chief laments I hear from pastors and churches. Today I want us to examine a challenging verse that lays out part of Jesus’ view of leadership. 

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13

Notice a major thing Jesus did in this passage. He EMPOWERED his disciples. He trained them, gave them authority, and then empowered them to go out and serve others. Is this a model that we are using in our own lives and in our churches? 

I love a metaphor Pastor Scott Wilson uses in his book Ready, Set, Grow. Imagine being tasked with teaching everyone in your life to dunk a basketball. The reality is that the vast majority of them will simply lack the physical abilities to do so, which leaves you with two options. First, you can lower the hoop. While this may prove fun for a while, it really does not help matters. It simply lowers the bar/goal. This is what we do far too often. We lower our expectations for ourselves, our church, and others, setting incredibly low goals simply because they are easier to accomplish. 

The second option is you can build stairs towards the hoop, making it easier for others to reach it. Wilson uses this illustration to make that point that all of us need to be building stairs to help others succeed as leaders and servants. We do this when, like Jesus, we take the time to instruct, encourage, and empower others. We build stairs when we sit down and teach our children Scripture, invite them to serve with us, and empower them with certain tasks. We do the same in the Church when instead of simply doing everything ourselves we take the time to invest in training and empowering others. 

Who do you need to be empowering in your life? Who needs some stairs built in order for them to become a powerful leader and servant of Christ Jesus? 

Difficult Verses: Mark 9:35

One of the advantages of having a Bible reading plan is that you don’t only read the “greatest hits of scripture,” but also encounter passages that are downright difficult. Here’s something I’ve noticed about Scripture over the years. For every Philippians 4:13 and John 3:16 there are verses that are highly challenging. In fact, sometimes we flat out what to ignore these verses. This may be because they go against our culture, seem strange to us, or are just simply incredibly difficult to live out. Over the next few weeks I want us to dig into some of these difficult verses. 

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

This verse may seem innocuous at first, but lets really think about it. If you truly want to be a follower of Christ then Jesus is commanding that you a) count yourself less than everyone else and b) be willing to serve everyone else. Jesus is not only asking us to serve those that we are comfortable serving (i.e. people that are like us), but to be ready to serve ALL people. Think about that for a moment. Are you really willing to serve ALL people? Are you willing to serve people who differ politically from who, have made poor and sinful choices, have wronged you, have committed crimes, etc.? This may seem easy to do, but when push comes to shove many of us are more than hesitant to truly serve the least and the lost. 

Let me be vulnerable for a moment. When I moved to rural Iowa to serve as an outreach pastor I thought I had a really open mind and heart. However, I soon found that to be far from true. While I enjoyed helping people like me (educated, middle class, and white), I struggled to help the least of our community (poor, often seemingly unwilling to work, recently imprisoned, etc.). I looked at many of them and thought “they’ve gotten themselves into this situation, and they can get themselves out.” However, that’s not how Jesus sees it. Jesus wants us to be part of the solution in helping the least and the lost emerge from the mire they are stuck in. This doesn’t mean we have to be ok with their sins and poor decisions. On the contrary, we are to help them change those behaviors so that they become disciples of Christ. 

In closing today I am reminded of the Great Commission. There Jesus tells us not to simply share about Him, or to do a good act here and there. Rather, He instructs us to make disciples. He urges us to help people become who God has made them to be. Who in your life represents the least and the lost? What can YOU be doing to disciple them? 

Real Relationships

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 than 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 been nice enough 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. There are certainly times in relationships where using such conditional phrases is 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.

Check out 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 that Christ gives us when we are in a relationship with him: comfort, love, the Holy Spirit, tenderness, and compassion. We can add to that list joy, peace, hope, eternal life, and so much more. When we are in a 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 the grocery store.” The only condition with Christ is believing in Him and confessing our sins. 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 I pray you take 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 as Christ has made us better.

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