Author Archives: Andy Baker

Who Do You Think You Are: Overcomer

For the past two weeks, I’ve been sharing thoughts and scriptures on the theme of identity. Week one we looked at how we are called to be God’s messengers and representatives to the world (ambassadors), and last week we saw that God masterfully designed us to do good works in His name. This week, I want us to think about a pretty challenging topic, and that is one of overcoming difficulties. 

As the year 2018 comes to a close I am reminded of the many challenges that have come my way in 2018. On April 19th the country where our family serves erupted into socio-political chaos that resulted in over 500 deaths, thousands of injuries, extreme transportation difficulties, and food and gasoline shortages. Personally, this situation created one of the greatest challenges I have faced in my life. In June our family decided it was best for my wife and children to spend a year in the States to wait out the crisis. Try as I might, I simply could not shake God’s calling to serve the people here in Nicaragua. Therefore we made a decision I never dreamt we would: we decided to live in two different countries for a year. Before I go further, let me just say I don’t necessarily recommend this course of action! We did this because we felt 100% certain God was calling us to do it in this very unique circumstance. But, it certainly has not been easy. There have been definite struggles here in Nicaragua, and being apart from my family has been far from a picnic. As I’ve gone through all of this I’ve taken real solace from the following verses:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37

First of all, no matter what challenges any of us encounter God’s love is always there. Nothing can take God’s love and presence away from us. I have had to lean on that love so much these past six months, and I’m here to tell you God’s sustaining love is a real thing! Second, the gift of eternal life God gives us can never be taken away. The ultimate victory over death, that gives us the gift of eternal life, has already been won once and for all by the ultimate conqueror, Jesus. Finally, if you look at the original Greek to be more than conquerors means to be overcomers. It means to not only succeed in the tasks we are doing but to overcome the challenges along the way. God calls us to be overcomers when it comes to following and serving Him. He understands that our life will not always be easy and that we will face many challenges as we follow and serve Him. Yet, he has ensured that we can overcome the challenges of the world by Jesus’ death on the Cross.

Who Do You Think You Are?: A Masterpiece

We spend a lot of our lives trying to answer the question: who are we? What is our identity, how do others see us, and how do we see ourselves? Let me brutally honest about something I’ve seen in men over the years. On the outside, we can appear like all is good and we have our lives all put together. Heck, sometimes we can even seem confident or, dare I say, cocky. That’s probably why I often hear people talk and write about how men are so overconfident, self-centered, etc. But as I have gotten to know more and more men on a deeper level I’ve realized that so much of that is an act. As men, we feel such a pressure to perform, to be the sort of man those around us expect us to be. We are under pressure to have the right kind of job, to have the right appearance, to not only have manly hobbies (sports, hunting, motorsports, etc.), but to be good at them, and more. The result of all this is I see a lot of men who are really broken on the inside. They feel unable to live up to all the expectations put on them by their family, friends, co-workers, and the world. 

Yet, here’s the thing guys, we were never made to run after the approval of so many others in the world. You weren’t made to have to define yourself and to prove your worth. Rather, you were painstakingly crafted by God to be a masterpiece. Check out Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Just think about that for a second. None of us is a mistake, none of us are designed to be a failure, and none of us are made to impress the world. We’ve been created and saved by God for a purpose. It may not be the purpose YOU want, but it is the purpose God has for you. Instead of running around stressing ourselves to no end as we try to fit into the world’s categories for us, let’s simply be the men God has created us to be. And the great thing is its not exactly rocket science. We simply follow His Word and do good works in our world. THAT is what you were made to do. There is so much good that needs to be done in this world, and each of us has been created and saved to impact it in a new way. God has created you to be a masterpiece. Embrace who you are, serve Him, and love others each and every day. 

Who Do You Think You Are: Ambassadors

I spent most of high school trying to define who I was. At various times I tried to fit in with the sports, popular, nerd, geek, stoner, and music crowds, constantly jumping from one thing to the next to “find myself.” To one degree or another, I think that’s pretty common in high school. But, I also think a lot of us adults spend a fair share of time trying to figure out who we are.  I also think a lot of us try to live through our kids. When I was a youth pastor one of the number one types of counseling I did was helping students convince their parents they should stop playing a sport. In THREE different cases, medical doctors told the student they needed to stop playing or risk permanent injuries, yet their parents wouldn’t let them. That may seem extreme, but if I saw it three times in five years in a town of 650 I’m guessing it happens relatively frequently. On another front, I’m currently working with a lot of very depressed people, mainly men, who have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis in Nicaragua. Like many men, they take a lot of their identity from their job, and now that they are unemployed they are totally lost. Not only is it causing them pain, but also their families, as they are often stressed out, angry, and frustrated with life and God. 

Instead of spending life trying to figure out who we are, trying to convince people that we are something, or having the world tell us who we are, we need to be who God made us to be. Over the next four weeks I want to look at four different things God has called us all to be. Here’s the first one: we are called to be ambassadors of Christ. 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:20

The reasons countries started having ambassadors was that in the days before all today’s communicatory methods about the only way for a leader to discuss anything with another leader was in person. Obviously, the leader couldn’t be everywhere they needed to be at once, so they appointed an ambassador that would speak for them. In most cases this person carried an authority similar to the leader themselves, speaking and negotiating on their behalf as if the leader themselves were in the room. That is the kind of responsibility and authority God has given to us. He calls us to be his ambassadors in this world, sharing the good news of Christ Jesus to everyone we can. This is in no way to say that we have the power to save people, for that is God’s alone. But it is to say that God has called us to be His tool for sharing the good news of eternal life with those around us. Is an ambassador of Christ one of the identities that you have? If not, I would challenge you to prayerfully consider taking on the mantle of ambassadorship God is offering you, and see how God can work through you. 

 

Forgiven Pigs

Happy election day! I live 3,000 miles, and yet I am ready for the ads, the Facebook posts, and the extreme negatively to be over. The toughest thing for me with this election (and to be fair, other elections) is how divisive things are. Even amongst us Christians, we seem so caught up in all sorts of political opinions. This is so much the case that I know families that have been painfully divided, people who have left churches, and friendships that have been obliterated, all because of political viewpoints. What always drives me the craziest about all this division over politics is that, at the beginning and end of the day, there is much more that unites us than divides us. And do you know what one of the biggest things that unites us is? We are ALL sinners and we ALL need God’s forgiveness.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10.

Let me put this is some very Iowan terms. Let’s think about pigs for a minute (ok, many of you think about pigs EVERY minute, but track with me anyway). As dirty, smelly, and generally obnoxious pigs can be that’s not how they came into the world. Pigs are actually born nice and clean. They become dirty because they live in relatively dirty conditions (at least to us humans), which they soon adapt to and becomes normal to them. To be honest, we are all a lot like pigs! We didn’t come into this world full of sin, but we soon started sinning. All of a sudden we got so used to our sinful world that it really wasn’t a very big deal to sin anymore. All the other pigs, err people, were living in sin, so we might as well too. Guys, we are all sinners, and we all need to be forgiven. My friend Dr. Artie Hall likes to say that Christians are forgiven pigs. We’ve all fallen into sin, and we all need Jesus to wash us clean. This election day, when we are so divided, let’s remember what unites us. We are all sinners, but God loves us all so much as to die for our sins. Despite our differences, let’s all rejoice is the love and mercy of our awesome Christ.

Let there be Law, Love, and Light!

Again 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 they 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 (although it was seldom enforced). 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.

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. 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 confess our sins and, like Jesus told the woman that day, to “go, and from now on sin no more” {v.11}.
  2. 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. 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.

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