Author Archives: Andy Baker

Difficult Verses: Mark 6:7-13

Last week we started looking scriptures that are so challenging that we are often tempted to ignore them. I want to continue this journey by looking at how Jesus directly challenges our typical view of leadership. Leadership has become a huge deal in North American culture. Research has shown that American organizations (businesses, churches, schools, etc.) spend over 24.5 BILLION dollars a year on leadership development. Yet, despite spending all this money, a lack of Christian leaders continues to be one of the chief laments I hear from pastors and churches. Today I want us to examine a challenging verse that lays out part of Jesus’ view of leadership. 

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13

Notice a major thing Jesus did in this passage. He EMPOWERED his disciples. He trained them, gave them authority, and then empowered them to go out and serve others. Is this a model that we are using in our own lives and in our churches? 

I love a metaphor Pastor Scott Wilson uses in his book Ready, Set, Grow. Imagine being tasked with teaching everyone in your life to dunk a basketball. The reality is that the vast majority of them will simply lack the physical abilities to do so, which leaves you with two options. First, you can lower the hoop. While this may prove fun for a while, it really does not help matters. It simply lowers the bar/goal. This is what we do far too often. We lower our expectations for ourselves, our church, and others, setting incredibly low goals simply because they are easier to accomplish. 

The second option is you can build stairs towards the hoop, making it easier for others to reach it. Wilson uses this illustration to make that point that all of us need to be building stairs to help others succeed as leaders and servants. We do this when, like Jesus, we take the time to instruct, encourage, and empower others. We build stairs when we sit down and teach our children Scripture, invite them to serve with us, and empower them with certain tasks. We do the same in the Church when instead of simply doing everything ourselves we take the time to invest in training and empowering others. 

Who do you need to be empowering in your life? Who needs some stairs built in order for them to become a powerful leader and servant of Christ Jesus? 

Difficult Verses: Mark 9:35

One of the advantages of having a Bible reading plan is that you don’t only read the “greatest hits of scripture,” but also encounter passages that are downright difficult. Here’s something I’ve noticed about Scripture over the years. For every Philippians 4:13 and John 3:16 there are verses that are highly challenging. In fact, sometimes we flat out what to ignore these verses. This may be because they go against our culture, seem strange to us, or are just simply incredibly difficult to live out. Over the next few weeks I want us to dig into some of these difficult verses. 

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35

This verse may seem innocuous at first, but lets really think about it. If you truly want to be a follower of Christ then Jesus is commanding that you a) count yourself less than everyone else and b) be willing to serve everyone else. Jesus is not only asking us to serve those that we are comfortable serving (i.e. people that are like us), but to be ready to serve ALL people. Think about that for a moment. Are you really willing to serve ALL people? Are you willing to serve people who differ politically from who, have made poor and sinful choices, have wronged you, have committed crimes, etc.? This may seem easy to do, but when push comes to shove many of us are more than hesitant to truly serve the least and the lost. 

Let me be vulnerable for a moment. When I moved to rural Iowa to serve as an outreach pastor I thought I had a really open mind and heart. However, I soon found that to be far from true. While I enjoyed helping people like me (educated, middle class, and white), I struggled to help the least of our community (poor, often seemingly unwilling to work, recently imprisoned, etc.). I looked at many of them and thought “they’ve gotten themselves into this situation, and they can get themselves out.” However, that’s not how Jesus sees it. Jesus wants us to be part of the solution in helping the least and the lost emerge from the mire they are stuck in. This doesn’t mean we have to be ok with their sins and poor decisions. On the contrary, we are to help them change those behaviors so that they become disciples of Christ. 

In closing today I am reminded of the Great Commission. There Jesus tells us not to simply share about Him, or to do a good act here and there. Rather, He instructs us to make disciples. He urges us to help people become who God has made them to be. Who in your life represents the least and the lost? What can YOU be doing to disciple them? 

Real Relationships

I 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 than 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 been nice enough 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. There are certainly times in relationships where using such conditional phrases is 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.

Check out 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 that Christ gives us when we are in a relationship with him: comfort, love, the Holy Spirit, tenderness, and compassion. We can add to that list joy, peace, hope, eternal life, and so much more. When we are in a 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 the grocery store.” The only condition with Christ is believing in Him and confessing our sins. 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 I pray you take 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 as Christ has made us better.

Real Relationships

I 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 than 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 been nice enough 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. There are certainly times in relationships where using such conditional phrases is 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.

Check out 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 that Christ gives us when we are in a relationship with him: comfort, love, the Holy Spirit, tenderness, and compassion. We can add to that list joy, peace, hope, eternal life, and so much more. When we are in a 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 the grocery store.” The only condition with Christ is believing in Him and confessing our sins. 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 I pray you take 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 as Christ has made us better.

The Other Side of the Street

Last year my leg was badly maimed by a dog while I was running. Desiring to avoid this fate in the future, I decided to always run on the opposite side of the highway from this dog’s house. The other day, however, the traffic was so backed up that it was going to be several minutes before I could safely cross the road. Since its been a year, I decided I’d take a risk and run on the dog’s side of the road, which I did without incident. I’ve been running down that same exact highway every day for a year, yet running on the OPPOSITE side of the road was a totally different experience. I noticed things I’ve never noticed before, and got so caught up in my “new environment” that I was shocked when I came to the corner I turn at.

Isn’t it interesting that the other side of the road can be so different than the side we’re used? I share this story because it helps me think about people who live on “the other side of the road.” The people that struggle with all sorts of problems, pitfalls, and pains that are simply hard for us to imagine. Because they are on “the other side of the road” we may be quick to judge them, because we just don’t understand their situation. I used to think this way about many “types” of people. I saw them as sinners who made their own mistakes, and thusly paid the various prices for their problems. Yet, the more I spent time with them, the more God enlarged my heart for them. I gained a better understanding of their situation, as well as a desire to be part of God’s solution for improving their lives and eternities. This is the example Christ set for us. He chose to spend time with those on the “other side of the road,” and time after time transformation happened. Zacchaeus was a prime example. Everyone thought Jesus was out of his mind eating at Zacchaeus house, because Zacchaeus was a notorious cheat. Yet, look at what happened because Jesus crossed the street and spent time loving and sharing with Zacchaeus.

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:8-10

Look, I see it like this. We can either stay on our side of the metaphorical street, glancing at the broken people on the other side with disinterest or a sense of judgment. Or, following Jesus’ example, we can cross that street and share God’s love with those experiencing all types of trials, and watch as God does amazing and transformative work.

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