Author Archives: Andy Baker

Why Church?

I’ll admit it: I’ve been burned by church. I grew up with my dad serving in a church, and thusly got to see the underbelly of the beast. I heard about the fighting, the politics, and the heartache and started thinking: why do I need this? I love God, have accepted Christ as my Savior, do a number of good things, and read the Bible, so why get up early in the morning to go to church? In fact, I started thinking I would be better off in my faith without the church, because I often saw church as bringing my faith down, rather then building it up. My experience is not overly unique. Many people I meet believe in God, but have been so burned by experiences in the local church that they have nothing to do with it. This is the case in the community I serve: 85% of the population believes in God, but only around 35% are active in a church. This all begs the question: why church?

Acts 2:42-47 lays out in detail how the first church functioned, and when I read that passage it becomes clear to me how important being part of a church community is. Here are four big answers to the “why church?” question from Acts 2:

  1. To learn and grow {v.42}: We participate in a Christian community so that we can learn from the wisdom of others. We grow not only from hearing sermons on Sunday mornings, but from watching the example of others, being mentored, hearing testimonies, and being held accountable.
  2. To make each other better {v.44}: Church needs to be a place where we make one another better. We pray for each other, offer encouragement, are there in difficult times, and help break sinful habits. A church thrives when everyone in it takes this responsibility seriously.
  3. To improve the world around us {v.45}: There is so much need in our community, state, nation, and world. While we can {and should} take actions to address these needs individually, we make the biggest impact when we serve together.
  4. To celebrate God {v.45-47}: So much about church seems to revolve around music. We pick what church we are going to attend because of it, and much of our in fighting stems from it. We need to move beyond music preferences, realizing that what is central to church is God’s people coming together to celebrate God for all He does for us. We need to look at worship as a time we give to God, not as a time for us to be receiving.

Many of us whine because we’ve either neither found these things in a church, or because our church does not seem to do them well. I want to say this to all of us {myself included}: instead of whining about our church, lets start making these things happen ourselves. Start seeing church as a place to grow, make others better, improve your world, and truly celebrate God.


Love in Action

It’s just a couple of days after Valentine’s Day, and relationships are still on my mind for some reason (the heart decorations still hanging in the coffee shop I’m writing in could be part of it). I’ve recently been thinking a lot about why we engage in any sort of relationship, whether it be dating, friendships, family, work-related, or in the church. Why ask such a question? Because, lets be honest, relationships often cause a ton of stress. A friend betrays our confidence, a co-worker’s foibles drive us up the wall, our spouse and us seem to be constantly divided, etc. In fact, in my just over a decade in ministry, by far the most prevalent problem walking through my door has been dysfunctional relationships. How do we not only navigate the difficulties of relationships, but actual turn every relationship we are in into a POSITIVE for everyone involved?

 

1 John 2:10 says: Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. I was really amazed when I looked up what the term love here means. Love as referred to here means taking loving action for someone else, which is pretty contrary to how we often think of love. Too often we envision love like many middle schoolers I’ve known. They sit in their room “loving” a member of the opposite sex that they’ve probably never even spoken with. They think about them at length, journal their thoughts, stalk their social media pages, and speak glowingly about their love interest to their friends. But, they never actual do anything about it. They never speak to this person or do anything positive for them; they simply crush on them from a distance. In a sense many of us are prone to this. I often have people start a conversation with “I love my spouse/parent/child, but they make me so angry.” They express love for them verbally, but because of struggles in life do little to nothing to act lovingly towards them. See friends, that’s the big kicker here. To really love someone is to take action to improve and better their life, ensuring they do not stumble and that they live the best life possible.

 

I want to leave you with a big, but important, challenge. Write down the first five names that come to your mind. Friends, family, co-workers, whoever comes to mind. Next to their name write 2-3 ways that you can actually show them love this week. It does not have to be seemingly gigantic things, but can include things as simple as praying for them, doing a task without being asked, inviting them to dinner, meeting a need they have, etc. Let’s show real Christian love this week by taking loving action for others.

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.

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