Author Archives: Andy Baker

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.

The Other Side of the Street

Last year my leg was badly maimed by a dog while I was running. Desiring to avoid this fate in the future, I decided to always run on the opposite side of the highway from this dog’s house. The other day, however, the traffic was so backed up that it was going to be several minutes before I could safely cross the road. Since its been a year, I decided I’d take a risk and run on the dog’s side of the road, which I did without incident. I’ve been running down that same exact highway every day for a year, yet running on the OPPOSITE side of the road was a totally different experience. I noticed things I’ve never noticed before, and got so caught up in my “new environment” that I was shocked when I came to the corner I turn at.

Isn’t it interesting that the other side of the road can be so different than the side we’re used? I share this story because it helps me think about people who live on “the other side of the road.” The people that struggle with all sorts of problems, pitfalls, and pains that are simply hard for us to imagine. Because they are on “the other side of the road” we may be quick to judge them, because we just don’t understand their situation. I used to think this way about many “types” of people. I saw them as sinners who made their own mistakes, and thusly paid the various prices for their problems. Yet, the more I spent time with them, the more God enlarged my heart for them. I gained a better understanding of their situation, as well as a desire to be part of God’s solution for improving their lives and eternities. This is the example Christ set for us. He chose to spend time with those on the “other side of the road,” and time after time transformation happened. Zacchaeus was a prime example. Everyone thought Jesus was out of his mind eating at Zacchaeus house, because Zacchaeus was a notorious cheat. Yet, look at what happened because Jesus crossed the street and spent time loving and sharing with Zacchaeus.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:8-10

Look, I see it like this. We can either stay on our side of the metaphorical street, glancing at the broken people on the other side with disinterest or a sense of judgment. Or, following Jesus’ example, we can cross that street and share God’s love with those experiencing all types of trials, and watch as God does amazing and transformative work.

We Need a Light

I’m going to man up and admit that, seventeen years ago, I fairly well botched my proposal to my wife (well, at least according to my planes). I was working at Inspiration Hills, a Christian camp in northwest Iowa, and I had been planning “the perfect proposal” for a few months. When Andrea came for the weekend I took her on a hike, leading her to a large hill near camp. From this hill you could see Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and at the pinnacle was a large cross. When we got to the cross I knelt on one knee, said something romantic (again, at least in my mind!), and reached for the ring… which I could not find in the dark! No problem I thought, I’ll just grab my flashlight and find it…except I couldn’t find my flashlight either! So here I am, at what should be the most romantic moment of my life, flailing around on my hands and knees trying to find the flashlight (in order to find the ring), while apologizing profusely for ruining the proposal. Andrea kindly joined me in the search and soon {although it felt like an eternity} we were able to find the flashlight. Within seconds of turning on the flashlight, we were able to spot the ring and I could finish the proposal. Thankfully {and gracefully} she still said yes, and seventeen years later we are about to celebrate 15 years of marriage.

It’s hard to find anything in the dark, let alone something tiny like a ring. Likewise, it’s extremely difficult to correctly find our way in our world without someone to guide us. Its certainly not because the world doesn’t try to direct us. It seems like, more then ever, the world is trying to lead us down all sorts of negative paths. Yet, there is really only one who can correctly show us how to navigate life, and that is Jesus Christ. John 1:4-5 explains it like this:

In him {Jesus} was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Just as I would have likely never found that ring without a flashlight, we are unlikely to correctly navigate life without following the light of Christ. See, Jesus not only came to earth to save us, but to lay out a blueprint for how to live life. His earthly life, wonderfully preserved in scripture, serves as a flashlight illuminating the correct path for us. It is a path that is not always easy, but is the right path. It is a path that includes showing grace and forgiveness, caring for the poor, living sacrificially, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, following scripture, and standing for God against the sinful ways of the world. May we always be turning to scripture and letting the light of Christ serve as our guide in this dark world.

Faith + Action= God at Work

If most of us are brutally honest we’ve likely ascribed to the following formula at some point: minimal effort + maximum reward= the good life! This is a big reason lotteries and slot machines are so popular. You put in a little (a few bucks), but have the opportunity to win millions. Little input, massive reward. I use a similar principle with shopping. I seldom buy something the first time I see it. Instead, I do my research to ensure that I spend the least amount of money to get the best possible product. Many people apply this same principle to school, jobs, and even relationships. They put in the least amount of effort necessary to still reap their desired reward. Unfortunately, we also do this when it comes to our faith. We want big and amazing things to happen in our lives, yet often we don’t want to put in a lot of effort in order to reap those rewards. When our wants and desires are not quickly met we can become frustrated, wondering why God has not blessed us yet.

There is an amazing story involving the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings. The army of the Israelites and their allies becomes lost in the desert for seven days. They are soon dying of thirst, and have no conceivable source of water.  

Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry stream bed full of pools.’ For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that stream bed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.” The next morning, about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water. 2 Kings 3:16-20

God could have easily opened up the skies and sent a rain, but instead he asks the Israelites to participate in this miracle by digging ditches. Only God could send the water, but first the Israelites needed to have faith and do the work to be prepared for God to work. We too need to have faith in God, do the right things (righteousness), and to trust God with the results. We cannot expect if we live a life that lacks faith and righteousness that everything we want will simply fall from the sky. Like the Israelites we have to first have faith in God’s plan and do the work He asks of us. We do that work by having faith, actively following God’s ways, and trusting God with the ultimate results. Let’s stop looking for the easy solutions in life, but instead enlarge our faith and our works for our awesome God. 

Where the Needs Are

Recently the story of Jesus’ healing of Blind Bartimaeus really moved and challenged me. It’s not only because Jesus healed Bartimaeus’ blindness, but the way in which He showed love and mercy to him. Checkout the scripture in Mark 10:46-52:

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Look, I totally get that pretty much none of us have the power to restore sight. But, there is a lot we can learn about serving from this passage. First, look where Jesus met Bartimaeus. Jesus was hanging out just outside the city, a place we often find Jesus in scripture. This is really interesting, because hardly anyone would have chosen to spend time in such a place. That was the place that the lame, poor, and rejected spent their days, largely because they were deemed too spiritually impure to enter the cities. Yet, that is a place we often find Jesus spending his time. How much time do we spend in the places in our cities and towns where people have the largest needs? Even more bluntly, how much time do we actually spend with people who have great needs? 

Second, look at the question Jesus asks Bartimaeus. He point blank asks: what can I do for you? How often do we as individuals, leaders, and churches actually ask our communities, and the people in them with the greatest needs, what we can do for them? How much effort do we put into discovering what the deepest needs are in our community, and discerning how God can use us to meet those needs? 

There are so many people right in our own backyards and communities that, like Bartimaeus, have needs that God can meet through us. Our challenge is to be like Jesus and to meet those people where they are. We can’t spend all of our lives in our areas of comfort, but like Christ need to step into the uncomfortable realities of our world so we can discover needs, and be used by God to meet them. 

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