Author Archives: Andy Baker

Life Under Construction

vital-logo-overlay I write this today while I sit in exile. Well, ok, maybe “exile” is a tad bit extreme. I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop {sipping some real great blueberry crumble coffee I might add} because one can hardly hear themselves think at our church right now as we are in the middle of a construction project. As our church continues to grow our facility needs to grow, which has led to this building expansion project. The crew is currently in the demolition phase, tearing out concrete, removing old carpets, and tearing off dated “wood” paneling. After the old is stripped away crews will begin constructing a fabulous new narthex, including an elevator, new restrooms, and plenty of fellowship space. It’s an exciting time in the life of our church as we grow and expand!

As I’ve heard the extremely annoying sound of jackhammers I’ve thought about the fact that we are all perpetually under construction. We are always learning, growing, and being shaped into better disciples of Christ. However, I fear many of us {myself included} get to a point where we begin thinking we have everything figured out. We’ve attended thousands of worship service, read shelves worth of Christian living books, attended countless Bible studies, and read thousands of daily devotionals. Not only that, but we’ve even been leaders and teachers in the church. Certainly we’ve reached the point where God has finished construction in our lives, and we have it all perfectly together, right? When you really think about it, the only moment in life when construction is complete is the moment we die and enter into God’s perfect heaven. Until that moment we are all in need of improvement, growth, and change. The problem is we seldom think that way.

Paul sums up the reality that we need to always be growing in our faith and practice in the book of Ephesians. He writes: until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:13-15

What are you doing right now to be growing? Do you have a mentor? Are you truly digging into scripture? Are you actively learning from others? Are you open to listening to new ideas and perspectives? Are you getting better at serving others? Until the day God calls us home we are tasked to constantly be growing as followers and disciples. What will you do to grow this week?

Turbulence

A number of years ago I found myself traveling from the Midwest to New Jersey. I arrived in Milwaukee to catch my connecting flight to Newark, only to discover that a major winter storm had paralyzed the eastern seaboard. As I gazed as the flight board I saw the dreaded CANCELLED on every flight to the east coast save one: mine! I was, of course, quite excited that I would still get home on time. My excitement disappeared, however, when our flight encountered the storm head on. We hit so much turbulence that the overhead compartments opened and luggage flew everywhere. The majority of the passengers ended up using the “courtesy bags {aka barf bags} because things were so shaky. As we came in for our landing I watched the plane’s wings move haphazardly up and down, and I started wondering if we would make it. We seemingly hit the tarmac ok, and then suddenly began to slide. The plane actually slid out of control, doing a 180 before finally coming to a rest. Once I realized I was not going to die I became very curious as to what kind of pilot a} thought it was a good idea to take off b} thought it was a good idea to continue through the storm and c} thought it was wise to land on a sheet of ice. The cockpit opened to reveal a fresh-faced young buck of a captain whose jacket was about 3 sizes to big. He grinned a “I can’t wait to tell the fellas” grin, and we all thankfully exited the plane. 

Lots of times are lives resemble that airplane ride as we feel constantly tossed and turned about, worried that we are going to crash and burn at any moment. Often times in those moments we are quick to blame God for our predicament, or to even doubt his existence. Here’s what I want us to all ask ourselves today: who is really at the controls of our lives? Are we letting God pilot our life, or have we locked the cockpit door and are trying to pilot our life through storms we are ill prepared for? Checkout these challenging, yet hopeful, words from Psalm 143:
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!
For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
Psalm 143:9-11

We are going to fly through turbulence in life. What we need to decide is whether we are going to attempt piloting through it ourselves, or instead turn the cockpit over to God. Here’s the reality friends: when we turn the controls of our life over to God he will guide us, deliver us, teach us, and love us through whatever it is we are going through. Surrender the controls, and let our loving God lead you through the storms of life.

Challenges

I’m writing this today as I sit on a street corner in the Achiuclinca neighborhood of Managua, Nicaragua. Over the past year our church has been building a partnership with three churches in this neighborhood, and this trip has been focused on learning more about them, their members, their community, and their culture. We’ve spent the week living amongst them in the sweltering heat (100 degrees plus each day), visiting their homes, worshiping with them, and sharing life together.


As we’ve engaged in dozens of conversations with Nicaraguan Christians this week God has convicted me of a number of things in my own life. I share these with you today because I think these are problems shared by many of us.

I’m incredibly ungrateful. The people I’ve met are quick to give God the glory for EVERYTHING in their lives. If their business is thriving they give God the glory. If they recover from illness God is praised. Even though they lack many of the luxuries you and I take for granted in life (including air conditioning on 100 plus degree days), they express incredible thankfulness to God. I don’t know about you, but I’m seldom very grateful for what God has done for me. If I experience joy and success I’m prone to be proud of myself instead of thanking God for blessing me.
I surrender so little to God in prayer. My Nicaraguan brothers and sisters are people incredibly dedicated to prayer. Not only do they maintain prayer lives that are wider and deeper then mine, they also value communal prayer. I was surprised that even though I am a stranger from a strange land many Nicaraguans shared sensitive prayer concerns with me because they see such value in prayer. I’ve been reminded this week that I need to not only go deeper and wider with my prayers, but to also be more open to sharing my petitions with others.
I trust myself more then I trust God. Nicaraguans I met seemed to trust God with every aspect of their lives. Again, they are no perfect in their faith, but their willingness to trust God to carry the, throw the ups and downs of life pales in comparison to my faith. I have learned much this week about surrender my worries and learning to trust God to provide and guide.

Again, my Nicaraguan brothers and sisters have not perfected faith, nor are we as Americans especially poor in our faith and practice. I have, however, been enormously challenged and inspired by my friends here in this beautiful land, and I hope these insights inspire you this week.

Easy Leadership

Over the past thirty years leadership has become one of the largest topics in politics, business, and religion. An entire industry has sprung up to teach us how to be leaders in virtually every aspect of life, with Americans spending nearly $25 billion PER YEAR trying to make themselves better leaders. Thirty years ago a budding pastor in seminary may take a one-hour course on leadership that focused on Robert’s Rules of Order and their denomination’s book of order, and lay leaders may have had a one-hour orientation to their church’s bylaws. Today seminaries offer entire tracks on leadership, and churches often send their lay leaders to multi-day leadership conferences. Leadership, however, is far from a new concept. God has been calling people to be leaders since creation. He calls us to lead our families, our friends, and our churches. God’s goal in leadership has always been quite simple: to bring glory to God and to make others better.

 

I want to offer three leadership principles outlined in the second chapter of Nehemiah. In this chapter Nehemiah, who serves in a senior position to the King of Babylon, asks the King to allow him to return to Jerusalem to help his people rebuild the city. In an era in which kings had absolute authority this was a request that carried substantial risk. Yet Nehemiah, who felt God calling him to make a difference, chose to take that risk for God’s glory and the benefit of the Israelites. Here are three things he teaches us about leadership that I hope we can all adopt in our own lives:

 

  1. Define your mission {Nehemiah 2:4-5}: Want to make an impact for God in your family, workplace, church, and world? Then start by clearly defining what it is you are setting out to do. Think it out, write it down, share it with others {for accountability}, and, most importantly, share it with God in prayer.
  2. Make plans carefully {Nehemiah 2:6-8}: Nehemiah made incredibly detailed plans to ensure his work would be successful. Sometimes we can be tempted to not put in the work, simply saying, “well, if God wants this to happen then He’ll make it happen regardless.” Yet, that’s not what we see happen in scripture. God desires us to put in the work, and then blesses that work. I always tell aspiring leaders that we need to plan and work hard, and then trust God to bless it and use it.
  3. Inspire Others {Nehemiah 2:17-18}: We often equate leadership with the individual. Someone is a good leader because they make good decisions, speak well, and get good results. We miss perhaps the most important aspect of leadership we see in scripture: inspiring others. Nehemiah was successful because he inspired the Israelites to rebuild the city. Paul was successful because he inspired community after community to follow Christ. Are you inspiring others in your life to follow and serve God?

Someone Needs to do Something!

You are an observant genius! It’s a true statement, right? You frequently see things that need to be fixed, need to be done better, or which you know you could vastly improve. You drive down the road and see the pothole that needs to be fixed, see the building that could be painted a much better color, and know that you could have roofed that house much better. It something all of us do: we see things and think: that’s a problem! But here’s my question for all of us: what do we ever do about? Now, many of the things we point out as needing fixing are truly not our responsibility {you probably shouldn’t just start repairing potholes}. Yet, there are many problems we see on a regular basis that we know need fixing, which we could legitimately do something about, yet choose to do nothing.

 

If you’ve never read the book of Nehemiah you owe it to yourself to read through it. 140 before Nehemiah the city of Jerusalem had been attacked, conquered, and destroyed by the Babylonians. For 140 years the walls of the city laid in ruins, leading the city defenseless. While people frequently complained about the state of the city little was done about it. Some attempts were made over the years, but always ceased when even the smallest of difficulties were encountered. Then one day a man named Nehemiah, living 800 miles away, heard about the condition of the city {Nehemiah 1:1-3}. Like thousands before him he was saddened by the news, bringing him to tears. But, unlike the generations of Israelites before him, he chose to do something about it. First, he decided to pray {Nehemiah 1:4}. Then, he chose to take direct action, leaving his prestigious job as an assistant to the King to travel to Jerusalem and tackle the problem head on {Nehemiah 2:3-5}. His attitude was: someone has got to do something about this, and it might as well be me!

 

Like Nehemiah we see all sorts of problems that break our hearts. Poverty, hunger, the lost, those caught in drug addictions, failing marriages, broken relationships, and more. Our hearts break everyday as we see so many problems not only around the world, but also in our own backyards {and, perhaps, within our own homes}. We’ll even utter the phrase “someone has GOT to do something about this!” But do we ever follow Nehemiah’s example and finish that phrase with “it might as well be me?” Friends, if your heart is breaking over a problem in this world I want to suggest that God may very well be telling YOU to do something about it. If your heart breaks for the lost start praying for them and starting finding opportunities to share the gospel. If your heart breaks for the poor begin praying for them and seeking out opportunities to assist them. Let your prayer this week truly be: “someone has got to do something about this, and it might as well be me!”

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