Author Archives: Andy Baker

Travel Light: Bitterness

Let’s be honest. Our world is EXTREMELY negative, polarized, and divisive. Every month that goes by politics, religion, and even sports divide us more and more. From even a cursory glance at social media, it seems that bitterness is the flavor of the day. I can totally understand why bitterness is spreading like an uncontrolled weed. I see so many things on social media, in the news, and with my own eyes that frustrates me, breaks my heart, and even angers me. I see countless unchecked actions and behaviors that I can’t even begin to understand, let alone agree with. Truth be told, I often feel a bitter taste building on the end of my tongue. However, we all need to remember not to let bitterness overcome us and drive our actions. 

Look at what Paul tells us in Hebrews chapter 12: 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

  1. Strive for peace with everyoneThis can be a bitter pill for us to swallow in this age of divisiveness and polarization. Some of you are likely making a list of exceptions in your heads right now of those you don’t have to show peace to. However, Paul is exceptionally clear here. It does not matter what differences we have with others, our goal should not be to sow more divisiveness, but to sow seeds of love and peace. 
  2. Model holiness: I can’t really blame the secular world for getting so caught up in polarizing issues. But Paul tells us that Christ-followers need to be an example of a better way of living. We need to be models of the holiness of Christ Jesus in the way we live and treat others. When people see Christians in life and social media they should be struck by how radically different we are. They should be amazed at how we love one another, love others, and are seeking to make the world better. They should be so taken by how different we are that they want to stop acting worldly, and instead seek God’s ways. 
  3. We should seek to avoid causing trouble: As Paul puts it, letting bitterness grow unfettered leads to all sorts of trouble. It can lead to broken relationships, arguments, anger, and all sorts of other troubles. Let me be blunt. I have seen both politically liberal and conservative Christians cause a lot of trouble over political opinions. I’ve seen many long-lasting relationships ripped to shreds, which breaks my heart. Don’t let your bitterness cause trouble for yourself or others. 
  4. Seek God’s grace: The focus in our lives should be less on always being right, and more on sharing and modeling God’s grace. Yes, we have a right to our opinions, and yes, we have a right to defend them vigorously. But at the end of the day, God’s grace is more important than anything else. Let’s make sure we never lose that perspective. 

Travel Light: Distractions

Part 2 of a series on removing the unnecessary and harmful from our lives. 

During World War II the NAZI High Command was obsessed with U.S. General George S. Patton. Patton’s brillance and never surrender attitude had defeated the NAZI’s in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He was perhaps the only Allied general that Hitler and the high command truly feared. Because of this fear and respect, they were 100% convinced that he would lead any Allied landing in France. They dismissed reports that Patton had been suspended from duty, and focused all their attention on Patton’s movements. As report and report came in that the Allies were amassing a huge force to invade Normandy they dismissed it, because their intelligence said Patton was in another part of England. Hitler and the High Command remained so distracted by Patton that they missed all the obvious signs of an invasion, and were caught nearly entirely off-guard. In fact, some generals continued to insist that the Normandy invasion was a distraction from an eventual Patton-led invasion for several days. 

Had Germany not been so distracted by Patton history may have looked a lot different. We have a similar problem when it comes to following Christ in our lives. We know what we are supposed to do, but we get distracted from doing it. Our lives become filled with our hobbies, our jobs, our friends, our families, and various other things we like, and we take our eye off our main objective: being followers of Christ. This is the point of the following passage: 

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Like our hobbies, jobs, friendships, families, and various other “likes” in our lives, Martha’s focus on readying the house was not in itself a bad thing. The problem was that it took her focus off of spending time with Jesus. Men, I feel we are facing a crisis of distraction today. We get so focused on a mountain of things in our lives that we totally forget to spend time with Jesus. We get distracted from serving Him, learning from Him, and listening to Him. The more we get distracted, the more liable we are to miss opportunities to bless others and to receive blessings. Don’t miss the good God has planned for you. Name your distractions this week. What is keeping you from your maximizing your relationship with God? What do you need to do to minimize those distractions so that you can experience the fullness of God’s love and plan for your life? 

Travel Light: Stuff

Every time my family gets ready for vacation I get nervous. My nerves are caused by the thought of figuring out how I am possibly going to fit all of our stuff into the car. When I say “our stuff” I really am referring to my wife’s stuff. By her own admission, she is incapable of traveling light. She has to bring every object that there is at least a .0001% chance she may need. The result is that one needs an engineering degree to figure out how to cram everything into the car. I think this is an apt illustration for our lives. We carry way more baggage around in our lives then we should. Over the next five weeks we are going to reflect on five things that we need to deal with in our life in order to travel lighter: stuff, distractions, bitterness, control, and failure. Today we’ll kick things off with stuff

It seems that every year the number of things that are “necessary” in our lives grows. It’s hard to imagine my life without a smartphone, laptop computer, and an Ipad. Its also getting hard to imagine how all three could not be seamlessly connected to one another (plus my TV and car radio) via the cloud. Every year more products are rolled out that the world screams that we HAVE to have. Put another way, a pretty prominent message the world sends us is that the purpose of life is to collect the most stuff possible. The Bible, however, paints a very different story. 

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:16-22

The real problem with the young man in this story was his inability to trust that Jesus was sufficient for his life. Following Jesus was simply not enough for him. He chose to instead buy the world’s lie that our happiness and purpose is found in stuff. The problem with the world’s view is twofold. First, we can never accumulate enough stuff to really be happy. Second, no matter how much stuff we accumulate, we can’t have it forever. The only way to have happiness that lasts forever is to realize that Jesus is sufficient. To realize that Jesus’ love and grace is what we really need to be happy now and forever. Jesus is sufficient for our lives. We need to stop desiring so much other stuff, and instead realize that we already have what we really need, and that is the love and grace of Jesus. 

But God!!!

Dwight Moody was born in 1837 to an extremely poor family. His father died when he was a child, leaving his mother to support a large family. Having no other recourse, she sent him off at a young age to work for his food, housing, and education. At 17 Dwight moved to Boston, where he was promptly turned down for dozens of jobs. He finally accepted a position at his uncle’s shoe store, on the condition that he attend church every week. While he followed this stipulation, let’s just say his enthusiasm for church was not exactly great. As his Sunday School teacher recounted:

“I can truly say that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my class; and I think that the committee of the Mount Vernon Church seldom met an applicant for membership more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth, still less to serve of any public usefulness.”

Yet, God began working in Dwight, and he soon became not only a believer, but a disciple. Despite lacking virtually every traditional skill of a pastor (and being only semi-literate) Moody began his ministry career. As he would later put it, he entered ministry with only a Bible and his character. Yet, over his time in ministry, he would become one of the leading evangelists in American history. Crowds of over 20,000 came to hear him preach, and hundreds of thousands were reached through his ministry. Owing to his own struggles with illiteracy he developed a wordless Bible to teach the gospel to the illiterate. This wordless Bible would be adapted by missionaries for use around the globe and has been used to reach MILLIONS of people with the gospel. Moody may not have had a lot of skills and gifts, but what he did have he fully used for God.

We see a similar lesson taught to the prophet Jeremiah:

I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘but I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:4-8

I share all this because I often hear people share that they would serve God, BUT _______. They are too young, not intelligent enough, not a good speaker, not a good student, only a farmer/laborer/mechanic/etc. There always seems to be some but getting in the way of fully serving God. Yet, history and the Bible are chocked full of instances of God using people with limited gifts and abilities. And you know why that is? Because ALL humans have limited gifts and abilities. If we had to lack a “but” to qualify for ministry basically every Bible hero would have never taken up their role. What is important is not what we seem to lack (our but), but that we reach the conclusion that Dwight Moody and Jeremiah did, and use the what we do have to be a blessing.

From Doubt to Faith

A few years ago I was on a mission team that decided to spend an afternoon at a lake. A Google search informed us that cliff jumping was popular at this lake, so of course we had to check it out. One member of our team had a reputation for being a daredevil. He talked a big game about jumping off this cliff, until he stood at the edge. Suddenly this normally brave guy started to chicken out. I’ll be honest. I’m usually not very brave, but the opportunity to do something our resident superhero was too chicken to do was too tempting. I made up my mind that I was going to jump. As I made the five-second run towards the cliffedge I had a 15-minute conversation with myself about how poor of a decision I was making. I started having some major doubts about the soundness of my decision. Just before the cliff-edge my doubts overcame me, and I tried to stop. Unfortunately, I already had built up too much momentum, and I went over the cliff anyway. This made the jump more dangerous, as the lack of momentum put me much closer to the rocks. Fortunately, all was fine and it ended up being a memorable experience. 

In this case, my doubt nearly got me into a lot of trouble. I think its often that way in life. Anytime we take a step of faith, a step to follow God, doubt creeps in. We say yes to serving in a ministry, then begin doubting our abilities. We have a close relationship with God, and then a member of our family gets cancer and we begin doubting God’s goodness. We are far from the first people to doubt God. Look at this interaction between Abraham and God. 

The Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6

Abraham had a lot of doubts about God’s plan to build the nation of Israel from his offspring. Yet, after God explains his plan, Abraham comes to trust Him. Any time we take a step of faith we will encounter doubt. When we do, we have to remember the perfect nature of God’s promises. Yes, we may face difficulties, but God has plans for us now and for eternity. When you have doubts, open up God’s Word and remember His plan. Remember that He is always with you, always loves you, and always has a plan to welcome you into His perfect heaven. 

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