Author Archives: Andy Baker

Relationships Defined

Wedding PicThis week my wife and I will celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary, which to some of you likely seems like nothing, and to others may seem like a long time. As we celebrate 12 years of marriage I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. Now, I’m not just talking about marriage, so those of you that are single are far from off the hook today! Every single one of us is in dozens of relationships, from our family to our friends to our neighbors, co-workers, and even the people next to us in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Today I want us to all think about what relationships are all about, and to take seriously making EVERY relationship we are in stronger. 

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 you nearer to Christ, and answering complex questions you lack the answers to. A bad relationship, however, can lead to immense pain, conflict, and more. In fact, broken relationships are the number one non-medical related problem I see people struggling with in life.

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. This is not just my opinion, but can be seen very clearly in scripture. Philippians 2:3-4 puts it like this:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

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 2 and make the goal of every relationship not the betterment of yourself, but the betterment of others. When I think about the past 12 years of marriage I can tell you that our marriage has been at its peak when both of us have taken the task of striving to make the other better serious. When we’ve lost sight of that {and, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m the one who tends to lose sight of this!} things have not gone nearly as well. This week I would ask you to think about at least three relationships you are in and ask yourself: what can I do this week to make this person better? Let’s all follow Paul’s advice and truly value others higher then ourselves throughout our lives. 

Serving can be a Sufferfest

cycling-1401407-639x424Four years ago I started getting into competitive cycling. I’ve been involved in competitive sports and activities all my life, but something has really struck me about the world of cycling: it is overtly fixated on suffering. Never before had I seen suffering elevated to such a lofty status. You can’t listen to coverage of the Tour de France without hearing commentators wax poetic about suffering. Suffering and success seem almost synonymous in the cycling world. In fact, a wildly popular online cycling training program is called Sufferfest. A winning cyclist would never say that a ride was good, fun, or successful, rather they would say “I really suffered out there today.” Why such a focus on suffering? Because in a cycling race the goal is to push your body to exert the most amount of energy possible over a course of roughly 100 miles. That will inevitably lead to A LOT of suffering: legs will ache, lungs will seemingly give out, and one’s body will want to shut down. A good cyclist endures a huge amount of suffering in order to emerge victorious.

 

In our Christian walk, however, there are probably few terms more negative then suffering. We tend to think of suffering as something that happens when we do not follow God’s ways, or when Satan’s gaze is honed in on us. Yet, much like a competitive cyclist, a hard-working disciple of Christ WILL ENDURE SUFFERING. It’s simply fact. If you serve in a church you will endure suffering: conflicts, tragic deaths, an unresponsive audience, an unruly Sunday school class, a poorly received budget report, etc. If you are working to reach the unreached you will experience suffering: you will be rejected, God will be rejected, people will backslide, etc. So, you better face it: if you want to serve God you better be willing to suffer. But, here’s the good news: when we experience suffering because of our service for God it is, like in cycling, not for nothing. Romans 5:3-5 tells us: we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

 

Now look, don’t run outside today and start beating yourself with a bat so you can experience the glory of God. What Paul is saying is that when we strive hard for Christ we will inevitably encounter suffering. But, instead of throwing our bike and going home, we plow through the suffering with the knowledge that our hard work and perseverance will bring glory to God. Serving will always have its rough spots, but it will also have its moments of victory: the unruly student accepts Christ, a family is comforted amidst unimaginable tragedy, and the rejected come to be part of God’s family. Keep pedaling through the struggles for God’s Kingdom!

Sharing the Joy

share-key-1524927How do you react when something good happens in your life? For me the first reaction is to celebrate, and if you know me you won’t be surprised to know that my celebrations are quite loud! My second reaction is to share the good news with others, starting with my family and moving outward to my family and friends. In this day in age that often includes sharing the good news on social media {Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.}. My third reaction, unfortunately, happens considerably less then the first two, and that is to pass the blessing onto others. When I was in seminary a family in the church I interned at gave us an amazing new car as a baby present. We could have easily just sold our perfectly fine old car and pocketed the cash, but instead we chose to donate it to a ministry that gave it to a single mom with a special needs child that could not afford a reliable car. Unfortunately, that’s not often how we react when we get blessed in a big way {I could have shared MANY stories where I did not share my blessings very well!}.

 

I’ve been think a lot lately about this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.    Philippians 2:1-4

At the core of Paul’s message here is that if we have been blessed in ANY way by God then we need to spread that blessing to others through our thoughts, words, and actions. Often we jump to thinking of spreading blessings in monetary terms, but that misses much of Paul’s point. If God has blessed us then our first response should be to love others. That means we encourage others, help them in times of need, pray for them, and do whatever we can to make their lives better. It also means that we share the gospel with them if they’ve never accepted it before so that they too may experience the joy we’ve been given by Christ. And yes, it also means that we may help others financially if that is what they need.

I’d really like to challenge you this week to keep track of all the times you feel blessed and full of joy. Each time you experience a blessing think about how you can pass that joy onto someone else. God has blessed us all in so many ways, so lets be passing those blessings on to others who need to experience joy this week.

 

Law, Love, and Light

stones-1470279-640x480Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

These are some of the most familiar, beloved, and memorized words in all of scripture. Yet, as familiar as these words are, we often don’t know the context in which Jesus uttered them. Jesus spoke these words to the assembled crowd right after he told a group of religious leaders that whoever was without sin should cast the first stone {v. 7}. Do you remember that encounter?

Jesus was at the Temple in Jerusalem early one morning, when a crowd sought him out to hear his teaching. Soon a group of religious leaders came to him, dragging in their wake a woman who had recently been caught adultery. Adultery was considered one of the two most serious sins at the time, and was thereby punishable by death by stoning. These religious leaders thought they could use this woman’s case as the perfect trap for Jesus. If Jesus {who was known to preach love and forgiveness} forgave her then the leaders would be able to show that he did not fully follow the law. If he did follow the letter of the law, allowing the woman to be executed, then the leaders would be able to show Jesus’ followers that he was not really all that loving and forgiving after all. All in all it seemed as if they had laid the perfect trap for Jesus.

Jesus’ response, however, proved to completely turn the world of the leaders on its head. He turned to them and proclaimed “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” {v. 7}, to which the leaders all the leaders turned away, letting the woman go. Jesus managed to show that he was both perfectly loving and perfectly followed the law. This encounter speaks to three major teaching about Jesus.

  1. The law Reveals Our Guilt: The commandments and teachings of the Bible are meant both to give us a road map to life and to shine guilt on our sins. God’s commands are not there to simply point out the flaws of others, but to reveal our own sins. This guilt should lead us to confessing our sins and, like Jesus told the woman that day, to “go, and from now on sin no more” {v.11}.
  2. The Love Reveals God’s Grace: Jesus’ love reveals the grace God has for all of us. This incident shows us that Jesus’ love is so great as to gracefully forgive all of our sins so that we may all avoid the punishment we deserve.
  3. The Light Reveals Our Hope: The summary of this whole story, as laid out so beautifully in verse 12, is that Jesus offers his love and forgiveness to all. Jesus shines a bright light into our world, giving us all the hope of a PERFECT eternity with HIM in Heaven. 

In Need of a Light

flashlight-1464714I’m going to man up and admit that, fourteen years ago this month, I totally botched my proposal to my wife. It was working at Inspiration Hills, a Christian camp in northwest Iowa, and I had been planning “the perfect proposal” for quite some time. When Andrea came for the weekend I took her on a hike, leading her to a large hill outside of camp. From this hill you could see Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and at pinnacle was a large cross. When we got to the cross I knelt on one knee, said something romantic, 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, flaying around on my hands and knees trying to find the flashlight, 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 fourteen years later we remain happily married.

 

It’s hard to find anything in the dark, let alone something tiny like a ring. Likewise, it’s difficult to correctly find our way in the world without someone to guide us. Its certainly not because the world doesn’t try to direct us. Everyday we are inundated with worldly advice on television, social media, in our relationships, in the workplace, and more, and far too often we end up following it. 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, perfectly 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 for us and those around us. 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 our dark world.

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