Author Archives: Andy Baker

Relationships Without Conditions

pipe-cleaner-people-1177063-640x480I 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 to relationships then 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 really been that nice 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 here. There are certainly times in relationships where using such conditional phrases can be 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.

Checkout 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 the things Christ gives us when we are in relationship with him: comfort, love, the Spirit, tenderness, and compassion. We can add to that list joy, peace, hope, eternal life, and so much more. When we are in 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 Wal-Mart.” The only condition with Christ is believing in Him and confessing our sins to Him. 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 special 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 has Christ has made us better.

Acting Humbly vs. Living Humbly

Male hand with microphone isolated on blackIf I’ve seen one sports post-game interview I’ve seen them all. It seems as if every victorious athlete gives the same response to the sideline reporter: the other team played great, I could not have done it without my teammates, a huge thanks to my coach, and all the credit to God. All really great responses. But, is that really how the athlete feels? So many times I hear an athlete give those responses, only to read later in the week that they are ridiculing the other team, bashing their teammates, begging management to fire their coach, and taking all the glory for their accomplishments. It seems that most athletes know they are supposed to act humbly in the post-game interview, yet forget to live a life of humility the rest of the week.

My point here is not to pick on athletes because, quite honestly, most of us are no better {and, to be clear, there are some truly humble athletes out there}. We know we are supposed to act humbly, so we try hard to give humble answers and to appear humble in public. But, in our hearts and minds, we often are not very humble. We are prideful, self-focused, view ourselves above others, and have a very me-first attitude. We seem to excel at acting humble, but struggle at actually being humble.

What does it actually mean to be humble? The word humble comes form the Latin word for dirt. Its origin is in Genesis, where God creates humanity from the dirt. To be humble is to acknowledge that we are all dirt. We are all creatures that have been created by God and have fallen into sin. In fact, the giftedness and goodness that we do have is not of our doing, but the Spirit working in and through us. Therefore, we really have no reason to see ourselves any better then anyone else. The best example we have of humility is the life of Christ, as Paul points out in Philippians 2:8: And being found in appearance as a man, he {Jesus} humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Jesus, God in the flesh, was the only one to ever walk this earth that was not dirt. He was not created from the dirt, and was not sinful, but instead was fully God. Yet, despite his divinity, he chose to lower himself for us. He chose to value you and I above himself by suffering and dying on the cross to pay our debts. That is the ultimate example of humility.

I want us to all ask ourselves this question: am I living humbly, or am I simply acting humbly? Am I putting the needs of others equal to/above my own, as Christ did, or am I living for myself? This week lets follow Christ’s lead and truly live a humble life.

 

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.

 

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