Author Archives: Andy Baker

Making others Better

I’ve come to the opinion that cookies are able to simultaneously be the absolute best and worst things for me. They are the best because, let’s face it, a really good, warm, and fresh chocolate chip cookie is just about the best thing there is. On the flip side, however, is the fact that eating just four of these scrumptious creations blows my ENTIRE calorie allotment for the day. Every time I see an awesome looking plate of cookies I’m faces with that tension of I know it’s a wonderful thing, but I also know it can be a bad thing if I’m not careful.

As crazy as it may sounds, our relationships (friendships, marriages, work, etc.) can be very similar. Few things in this life are better then a thriving relationship. A solid relationship can make you better in so many ways, offering you encouragement, helping you through difficulty, drawing your nearer to Christ, and answering questions. A bad relationship, however, can lead to immense pain, conflict, and more. In fact, broken relationships may be the number one non-medical related problem I see people really struggling with in life is relationships.

While relationships can take on many facets and be incredibly complicated, let me offer up one piece of advice today: the overall goal and focus of every relationship we are in is to make the other person better. The point of a relationship should never be about what we get out of it, but about what we are giving to others. If we all adopted this view of relationships we would rather quickly see the extinction of gossip, slander, betrayal, bruised feelings, and the like. Philippians 2:3 puts it like this:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Relationships can be one of the greatest aspects of our lives, or one of the worst. To make the most out of them heed Paul’s advice in Philippians and make the goal of every relationship not the betterment of yourself, but the betterment of others.

Stop Talking!

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy talking, especially about things I either really like, or things I really DISLIKE. You get me going about some of my big likes, the Chicago Cubs, bicycling, the and the outdoors and it’s hard to get me to stop. Unfortunately, I can go in and on about things I dislike. Sometimes that’s not a bad things,because I’m talking about things I’d love to see eradicated from this world, such as poverty, people who do not know Jesus, and the self center dress of our culture. Sadly, I can also spend WAY to much time doing things like whining, hold a self-pity party, and complaining about others. The problem with all of this talking is this: it really does not accomplish anything.

Let’s be honest, if we actually did good 10% as much as we talked we’d pretty much eliminate the problems of this world. If you’ve never read the first chapter of the Book of Haggai I’d really encourage you to do so. In that first chapter God uses the prophet Haggai to urge the people to stop talking and stop doing. Haggai served God 18 years after the people of Israel had returned from exile in Babylon. Right after their return they had begun rebuilding God’s Temple, but soon stopped. Instead of building the temple they spent their time, money, and energy building luxurious houses for themselves and focusing on their own wants and desires. They would often talk about building the Temple, but they never actually did the work. Haggai stood before the people and simply said this: go up into the woods, cut down trees for lumber, and do the work! Basically, stop yapping about it, and start doing it. We all need to do that more in our lives. We see problems in our homes, community, and world, and spend a lot of time talking (read: complaining!) about them. What would happen that, instead of our constant talking we actually took action? We started sharing the gospel with the unreached, gave to the poor and needy, volunteered in the ministry of our church, and met needs we saw with love. I’m here to tell you THAT would make much more of an impact then our words. What will you do today to be a blessing to God and others in a world with such big needs?

Pressing Stop

I read an article recently about the downfall of Target in Canada. In 2013 Target decided to enter Canada for the first time, opening 133 new stores in its first year. Moving into Canada seemed like a brilliant move. Many Canadians were already familiar with Target, and made stopping at Target a major part of any trip to the US. All indicators were that Target’s expansion into Canada would be a run away success. Yet, from the beginning, the Canadian expansion was a disaster. All of Target’s ordering, sales, and re-stocking are managed by computer software that has served them well in the United States. Canada, however, differs from the US in its use of the Canadian dollar, French and English, and the metric system. Those responsible for Target’s data entry often forgot about these differences, leading to errors in 70% of their initial product orders (mostly related to entering sizes in inches rather then centimeters). This led to major mistakes in the ordering of products, and most Target’s opened with half-empty shelves. To make things worse, store shelves never seemed to get re-stocked. Target soon discovered that its ordering clerks, who needed to keep the shelves 97% full to receive positive evaluations, had turned off the software function that reported empty shelves. While this assured them of a 100% success rate, it also meant that Target HQ was never informed that stores were out of products. Less then two years from opening Target Canada went out of business, closing 133 stores, laying off 17,600 employees, and losing over $2 billion.

 

As I read this story I was amazed that there was never a point in which someone said “stop!” Instead of opening stores with a known problem in their supply chain Target should have postponed openings for one or two months to ensure all their data problems were fixed. When things do not go as we like in life we tend to simply trudge on like Target Canada, no matter how bad things may be. We soon become so stressed and overwhelmed that we have no idea what to do next. When you start feeling overwhelmed in life take Jesus’ advice in Matthew 11:28-29: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. All of us need to take time to stop whatever we are doing in life to simply spend time with God. We need to take time to speak with Him, listen to Him, and let his love flow over us. Even if this is for only 10 minutes during your crazy day take the time to let God re-charge you. Don’t try to do everything on your own, especially when things start going wrong. Press stop and let God’s love and grace help push you through the trials of your life.

You Are Not Perfect

I’m currently reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton, who you’ll find on every $10 bill. Hamilton was not only one of the Founding Fathers of our country, but his life-achievements make him the poster child for being good at everything. Just look at the massive spectrum of his achievements: ivy league scholar, spokesman for the revolution, Revolutionary War hero, primary writer of the Federalist Papers, leading attorney of the early United States, founder of the first bank in New York, founder of the Coast Guard, Army Chief of Staff, first Treasury Secretary, accomplished and published poet, fluent in numerous languages, and much more. That is an amazing breadth of accomplishments that has never been close to duplicated in the annuals of our nation. Yet, one certainly could not say Alexander Hamilton was good at everything. He was a known womanizer, had multiple affairs, was notoriously difficult to get along with, used 1,000 words when ten would have sufficed, and his massive ego led to his death in a duel at an early age. Yes, even the man regarded to have perhaps the most well rounded skill set in American history could not do everything well.

 

I think we would all have considerably more enjoyable lives if we lived with the daily understanding that neither us, nor ANYONE else on this planet, can do everything well. The well known verse in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” should serve as a reminder that all of us have short comings. The key is learning to be ok with that. Instead of dwelling on your shortcomings, especially those things you cannot change, we need to focus on those things God has gifted us to do. I know so many people who feel like useless pieces of God’s Kingdom because they are not gifted speakers, teachers, or singers. While those may be some of the most visible gifts, they are far less effective without the support of other gifts. Even the most gifted preacher is only marginally effective unless supported by those who have gifts such as hospitality, evangelism, mercy, and more.

 

Just like you cannot do everything, neither can ANYONE else. Your spouse, best friend, boss, neighbor, parents, and yes, even your pastor, cannot do everything well. And that’s ok! They all have strengths and shortcomings. Instead of holding others to impossible standards, start thinking about how you can partner with them. Paul compares the Church to the human body in writing in Ephesians 4:16: the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Instead of feeling like failures everyday, and being frustrated by the shortcomings of those around us, let’s remember that we all have failings. Instead of feeling inadequate and judging others lets look for ways to work together daily for the glory of God.

True(ish)

Let’s play a little true/false game. True or False: the Bible is the most shoplifted book in the world? That would actually be true. Second question: you can burn 100 calories by kissing someone? While some of us may wish that to be true, it’s actually quite false. Last one: a good life=a successful life? While most of us quickly answer that as false, the way we live our lives often tells a different story. We spend a ridiculous proportion of our lives striving after worldly success: career success, financial success, success in the eyes of others, athletic success, and on and on. We may know that a good life doesn’t necessitate such success, yet we seem to lust after success nonetheless.

 

Take a moment to checkout the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. Here is this farmer who experiences such a successful crop that he is able to build all new buildings, and still have such a fortune leftover that he can take an early retirement. This farmer definitely believed that a successful life=a good life, so once he had succeeded he figured he could simply sit back and enjoy his fortune. Unfortunately, he met his death the very next day, with his fortune simply going to waste As I look back on my life, I’m ashamed at how much effort I have expended chasing after success. I chased after popularity so hard in high school that I ended up with a drinking and drugging problem. In college I was so hungry for A’s that I worried only about myself and was a self-conceited jerk. In recently years I’ve even found that my thirst for athletic success (running and triathlon) has at times taken precedence over being a husband and father. And, in the end, what have I really gotten from all that? A yearbook full of signatures and silly sayings I no longer understand, a gold “honors” stamp on my diploma, and a drawer full of medals. All stuff that someday my kids will toss in the dumpster. It makes me wonder: if I would have expended some of that energy on helping other people how big of an impact could I have had?

 

The Parable of the Rich Fool ends with Jesus telling us in verse instead of living for personal success we need to be “rich towards God.” This means that we take all of the riches of our lives: our talents, our finances, our success, the knowledge of our salvation, and share them with others. The impact of our sharing richly has a far longer and lasting impact then any worldly success. When we share the gospel with someone God can take that and save someone for all eternity. When we share our income with a relief organization someone may receive medicine that otherwise would have died prematurely. When we share love and encouragement with our neighbor we may turn them from a destructive addiction to a far better life. I really challenge you this week to focus less on achieving personal success, and more on living richly for God and others.

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