Author Archives: Andy Baker

The Gift: Jesus is Our King

I’ll admit, I’m not that into Christmas music. There are some Christmas songs I love, and others I could survive without (looking at you Mariah Carey!). One of the songs on my naughty list is We Three Kings of Orient Are. I’m a stickler for biblical and historical accuracy, and that song is FAR from accurate. For starters, there were not three men, they were not kings, and they weren’t from the Orient (look it up if you need to!). Don’t even get me started on these individuals having names or being present at the manger, as they likely showed up TWO YEARS after Jesus was born. Inaccuracies of the song aside, we can learn a lot from the Wise Men, especially the three gifts they gave Jesus. Over the next three weeks, I want us to look at the significance of these gifts. Each gift symbolizes one of the ways Jesus came to be with and for us. By understanding the significance of these gifts we can gain a deeper understanding of how great a gift Jesus is. 

The first gift the Wise Men gave Jesus was gold. Gold was viewed as a gift for kings, and symbolized that the Wise Men saw Jesus as a king. In fact, when they arrived in Israel they asked to see “him who has been born King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Jesus, however, came to earth to be more than just a king among other kings. He came to be the Lord and ruler of all. 

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. 1 Timothy 6:13-16

Paul lays out three big differences between God and other kings. 

  1. God is immortal: Every other human ruler will die and remain dead. No matter how great they are an how much they accomplish death will ultimately defeat them. Jesus, however, came to defeat death. The cross was only a necessary and temporary set-back, for three days later he rose again. Jesus is therefore not a king for only a matter of decades, but eternally. 
  2. God is invisible: Before Jesus, no one could see God. Because of his greatness, He was way beyond our understanding. In Jesus, however, God chose to be known by us. He chose to interact with us to both teach us and save us. 
  3. God is unapproachable: This is a common attribute of kings. Us lowly commoners cannot simply approach them. Even today there are complex protocols involved with meeting a king or queen, involving bowing, using certain titles, etc. Similarly, God is unapproachable by sinful humanity. Our sin separates us from Him. HOWEVER, because of the gift of Christ God is approachable we can know God now and through eternity because of Jesus. He is not only our King, but also our Father and friend. 

Jesus is a King who lives forever and breaks down the distance between us and God. Through Him we come to know God intimately and personally. Through Him we become part of God’s family forever. What a gift to have the King of all kings forever on our side! 

Let Me Get Closer!

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.

Living with Spiritual Maturity

My in-laws are currently here in Nicaragua for their first visit. It’s also their first visit to Latin America and to a developing country. This Sunday we took them to our church, which is a large Spanish speaking congregation here in Managua. We were a little nervous because our church is known for being very loud, very contemporary, people dancing in the aisles, people walking up to you and praying for you, etc. Near the end of the service, my father-in-law turned to me with tears in his eyes and choked out “this is the most meaningful service I’ve ever been to.” This was surprising to me because they could not understand 95% of what was said because of the language barrier. Afterward, I asked him what he meant by his comment. He said he was amazed that people who have suffered so much could be so joyful. He knew many of the people in the church have lives that are incredibly difficult, yet they are so passionate about expressing their love for God. He felt guilty that while his life has been blessed in so many ways, he seldom expresses his love for God in a passionate way. 

Many visitors from the U.S. struggle to understand how the extreme poor here can get through all the difficulties they face. Most struggle to provide even the basics for their family, such as safe food and water, secure housing, adequate education, and quality healthcare. Yet, they often live with joy in their hearts. How? One big answer is spiritual maturity. Many of my Nicaraguan friends don’t rely on the world to bring them joy, but fully lean on God for everything in their lives. How often do those of us in the States, who have been materially blessed in so many ways, not lean on God for our happiness? Instead, our mood bounces all over the place based upon how well things are going for us in our relationships, our jobs, our bank accounts, etc.

I’d like to offer today that many of us, myself included, suffer from spiritual immaturity. Our connection with God is, in reality, so weak that we have to rely on the world to make us happy. The big problem happens when the difficulty and tragedy strikes. If our faith is weak and immature, how do we handle that? 

That’s the whole point of the sometimes confusing Book of Job. Job was able to endure an unfathomable amount of suffering because he was mature in his faith. He was deeply connected in God and trusted God’s ways. He focused on the big picture of God’s love, presence, and eternal plan rather than the physical and material. As a result, he was able to endure all sorts of difficulties. How is your spiritual maturity? Do you have a deep enough connection with God that you can be joyful in all situations? Or, are you relying on the events of the world to bring you joy and happiness? I encourage you to do everything you can to become more and more secure and mature in your faith, because when you do you will experience a life of love and joy even in the most difficult of circumstances. 

Travel Light: Our Past

There are good and bad aspects of thinking about the past. On the positive side, taking a look at our past can give us direction for the future. We can look at our past successes and apply those lessons to new situations we face. We can benefit from remembering the many blessings we’ve experienced. Looking backward, however, can have a negative side. Our past failures may keep us from taking risks again, or hold us in a constant state of depression. Our past successes may make us desire to live in the past rather than tackle the challenges of the present. We can also become so consumed by the past that it overtakes our present. Hindsight is always 20/20, and sometimes our memories of the past aren’t exactly accurate. I once had a church member lament how worship attendance had decreased over the years (which it hadn’t). They said that in the 60’s the church used to average 700 people a Sunday. However, I knew this to not be the case since the sanctuary can only hold 400, and they only held one service.

So, what do we do with our past? Do we spend time thinking about it, do we just completely forget about it, or is there a third option. I want to suggest that there is indeed a third option. We need to use our past as a guide for the future. We should never live in the past, or cling to some utopian version of the past. Yet, we should be willing to look back and build upon our past to build the best future. Checkout Paul writing in Philippians 3:12-15:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 

  1. Grow from the imperfections of your past: It’s good to look back and realize, wow! I sure made a lot of mistakes back then! Looking backward to see how God has forgiven us, changed us, and sanctified us is healthy. Dwelling on our past sins, however, is not. It is important that we give our past imperfections to God, who has the power to both forgive and heal. 
  2. Harness the past for the future: It’s not healthy to “live in the past,” seeing it as the good old days and believing today and tomorrow to be inherently negative. We should take what we’ve learned from the past and apply it to living our best possible future for God. How can our past experiences, good and bad, help us tomorrow? How can the church’s past experiences, good and bad, help us to be the best church for the future? Don’t let the past run your life, but instead take what you can from it to best serve God tomorrow, the next day, and all the days of your life. 

Travel Light: Anger

I came to the conclusion some time ago that I will almost certainly meet my demise in a fiery wreck of some sort. I can’t tell you the number of near-catastrophic crashes I’ve experienced in my car, on my bike, or on foot. These have ranged from rabid dogs, to swerving cars, people making out in tunnels on the Oskaloosa bike trail (twice!) and innumerable reckless motorcycles. Now, I know there are A LOT of motorcycle enthusiasts who frequent this page, so let me assure you I’m likely not talking about you. I’m commenting on the no rules motorcycle culture here in Nicaragua, where motorcycles pass on the left, right, center, sidewalk, ditch, median, etc. Just the other day I was running ON THE SIDEWALK and was nearly hit by a motorcycle who had jumped the curve and was driving on the sidewalk to get around traffic. I had to literally take a dive to avoid being hit. 

As I continued my run I was fuming, as I thought about how horrible that driver was and how I hoped they would get their just rewards such as receiving a ticket or getting into an accident. But, I soon started being disappointed in someone else: myself. Yes, that driver was in the wrong, and yes, I could have been hurt, but none of that justified wishing bad things upon them. I am very concerned that we live in a world where it has become normal, and seemingly right, to respond maliciously if you feel wronged. Feel slighted in business? Write a vindictive review on social media. Wronged in a relationship? Do something even worse to the person who wronged you. If someone hurts us we feel justified in lashing back twice as hard. But, that’s not at all Jesus’ view. Jesus tells us this: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus’ response to the negative actions of others is to respond with love. Not only does he say let it go, but he says to turn towards them. Why on earth would Jesus tell us this? Because Jesus’ goal is to love and save EVERYONE, regardless of what they have done. Therefore, he tells us to not simply reject a sinner, but to love them so generously that they may come to know Him. Now look, I’m not telling you to just let evil and lawlessness happen. There are times to stand up for what is right. What I am encouraging today is that when you get angry at someone to put that anger aside and try to have an attitude of love and restoration, just as Jesus has done for us Let’s not always act out of our anger, but out of Jesus’ amazing love. 

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