Author Archives: Andy Baker

Judgement Free 2018

Perhaps the number one thing that drew me to Nicaragua was it’s people. Every time I visited Nicaragua I was amazed at the love, passion, humility, and fortitude of the Nicaraguan people. They are a pleasure to both serve and to learn from. Yet, just like adjusting to any culture, there are some aspects here that make me shake my head. Now, to be fair, there were aspects of my previous two communities in the States I judged as well (I never understood why Wisconsinites put noodles in their chili, or why all dishes in Iowa require a can of creamy soup). Lately, I’ve been deriding the Nicaraguan practice of wetting down dirt roads in the morning. First of all, this means that my shoes are constantly getting muddy, which means my floor is constantly getting muddy. Second, it seems quite senseless to me, as Nicaragua has a major water shortage (there is a community near us in rapid decline because of its lack of a secure water source). Every time I see someone throwing a bucket of water on the street I want to scream about what a waste it is. 

Really, its ridiculously for me to be judging this Nicaraguan practice. First of all, there is a rationale to it. It’s currently the dry and windy season, which means TONS of dust. This dust not only constantly gets things dirty, but can cause problems with breathing and damage machinery. By wetting down the roads every morning people are helping to minimize these problems, which they see as worth the expenditure as water. Second, what right does an American have to judge others about water usage? We water our lawns simply for beauty, take exceedingly long showers, think little about water usage in our homes, and more. Yet, despite my own wastefulness of water, here I am judging the people of Nicaragua. 

Here’s my point in all this. We spend WAY too much of time and energy judging others. We judge their behavior, spending, driving, politics, appearance, preferences, and so much more. Often, I fear we spend more time judging the behavior of others then we do doing two things that are vastly more important: judging and confessing our own behaviors and loving others. As we go about this new year lets all try to live it in light of the following advice from Paul: 

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:10-13

GOAT

In recent years the term GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) has become widely used in sports. In football it often gets tossed around when referring to Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and in basketball in the seemingly never-ending Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James debate (IMHO its CLEARLY Michael Jordan). In fact, it seems that there can hardly be a sports broadcast without discussion of who the GOAT of that sport, team, position, etc. is. All of this talk about the GOAT seems to be indicative of our human obsession with greatness. Lets face it, many of us worry about greatness more then we’d like to admit. We worry if we are living a life of greatness, if others will remember any great accomplishments from our lives, or if anyone we include our actions in their lists of great things.

This obsession with greatness is far from new. In fact, it dominated conversations in Biblical times as well. Jesus’ disciples famously debated about which of them was the greatest, and achieving greatness was a common question in the cities Paul visited. In fact, people spent considerable time and energy trying to make their personal cases for greatness in the ever fickle court of public opinion. This was particularly the case in the city of Rome, where the attainment of fame and prestige often took center stage. It was in this atmosphere of obsession over greatness that Paul wrote the following:

Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

See, true greatness comes not from our abilities, our fame, or our achievements, it comes only from the grace of Christ. Yes, we can accomplish things that may be cheered and deemed “great” by some for a time, but such greatness fades away. The only way we achieve that which is truly great, eternal life in a perfect heaven, comes from the sacrificial death of Christ Jesus on the Cross. This year, instead of spending so much time and energy searching for greatness in the eyes of others, let us remember that the greatest thing about all of us is not what we have accomplished, but what Christ has accomplished for us.

Taking Real Advice

I’ve been back in the US the past two weeks, and among the highlights has been getting to go to bookstores. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer a paper book to an e-book, and the selection of English books in Nicaragua tends to be slim (and it takes me about five times as long for me to read in Spanish). As I’ve pursued book stores the past two weeks I’ve noticed that the shelves are chocked full of self-help books, presumably aimed squarely at the 40% of Americans who make New Years resolutions each year. You can find advice on everything from weight loss, to exercise, to dating, keys to a better marriage, to how to live like a movie star, without actually being one. Given The sheer volume of self-help titles it should be of little surprise that the “advice” industry raked in over $11 BILLION last year. It’s therefore quite clear that many of us are looking for advice and guidance in life, and are indeed willing to pay mightily for it. But, are we really looking in the right places?

Much of the Book of Acts focuses on the attempts by the Apostles to evangelize cities throughout the Roman Empire. In Acts 17 Paul is evangelizing the city of Berea, where the people look to two different sources for advice:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Acts 17:11-13

One group in Berea chose to follow the advice of “experts” from Thessalonica, who passionately proclaimed that the Apostles were nothing more than charlatans and heretics. Another group, however, chose to check Paul’s claims with the scriptures. Finding his teachings on Jesus to be inline with the promised Messiah, they joyfully accepted the Good News of Jesus.

There will never be a shortage of sources trying to give us advice: authors, TV and radio personalities, public figures, friends, social media, advertisements and more. At the end of the day we need to remember that there is only one source that is perfect, infallible, and True, and that is the Bible. Instead of chasing after all of these other sources we need to always turn to God’s Word and the guidance it gives us. This year let’s make the Bible our primary source of guidance and advice.

Never Ending Christmas

Christmas at my house has a shelf life of about two days. Christmas day is full of excitement, as our young children are often out of bed and bubbling over with excitement around 4:30am (new rule: no waking up mom and dad before 6:30am, or there will be no presents!). The present opening tends to take a couple of hours, interspersed with breakfast, snacks, and pictures. Once the present are all opened the kids become singularly focused on their new toys and games. By about noon on December 27th, however, the new “stuff” has lost its excitement and newness, and the children are back to constantly uttering their two favorite phrases “I’m bored” and “there is nothing to do!” Yep, the joy of that Christmas morning seems to last only about 48 hours before it loses all significance.

That begs the following questions: what is shelf-life of the joy of Christmas in our lives? How long is it before the significance of Christmas is replaced by our worldly wants and concerns? There is a story in scripture that does a great job addressing these questions. It happens eight days after Jesus is born. Now, put yourself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph for a moment. All of these amazing things happen in a short period of time: angels appear to them, they have this crazy journey to Bethlehem (including giving birth in a barn), random shepherds show up, more angels appear, and they now have the Son of God as their son. Now THAT’S a Christmas! Yet, eight days later, you have to wonder whether or not the wonder of it all has given way to the stress of raising a baby. And so it is that Mary and Joseph fulfill their religious duty and bring their eight day old to the Temple. There they encounter two different people, Simeon and Anna, who explain to them how significant their son really is. You can read the whole account in Luke 2:25-40, but let me give you the highlights. These are three ways in which Simeon and Anna point out the significant Christmas should have to all of us every single day.

  1. Jesus gives us salvation: Jesus came on Christmas not simply to teach us, but to save us for all eternity. Without Christmas we would be headed for death and hell, but because God came to us in that stable we may have life everlasting!
  2. Jesus provides guidance for our decisions: Because God came to earth in the form of Jesus we have received MASSIVE amounts of advice and guidance direct from God. What a significant treasure that is, and one we need to do a better job of listening to. 
  3. Jesus changes our worldview: Jesus didn’t come for just a few believers, but for the entire world. This should challenge us to think beyond ourselves and our churches, and to think about those who need Christ throughout our world. 

This year, lets not allow the joy of Christmas to be a 48 hour thing, but rather, something we celebrate and remember all year long. 

Prepping for Christmas

Recently I’ve reflected on some of the big things I’ve prepared myself for in my life. In college I had to write and defend a senior thesis, which I started the first day of classes, and poured myself into until the day I defended it. I read over 20 books, met with a professor an hour each week to discuss its progress, went through many re-writes, and had several others give me feedback. It was a ton of work, but it all paid off. As an athlete, I’ve also learned the value of preparation. The more work I put in during the months leading up to a big race the more prepared I feel. I love getting to the finishing stretch, seeing my time is going to be right on target, and still having energy in the tank.

A question we ask ourselves too little during the holiday season is:  what do we need to do to prepare ourselves for Christmas. To prepare for Christmas means that we take steps in our lives to turn our attention from all the worldly hustle and bustle to focus on God. Jeremiah 29:13 puts it this way: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. This means that we need to truly take the time to reflect on what it is God did for us that Christmas night two millennia ago, and indeed what He continues to do for us.

What does this look like? Well, it can take a lot of different forms, but let me give you a few examples. 

  1. Spend time in deep prayer: I’m not talking about “God, bless this food, Amen.” I’m talking about blocking out 15 minutes or more to really spend time with God. Share what’s going on in your life: the good and the bad. Share what you need, and be open to how God may move you to meet the needs of others. Let God’s love pour over you, and remember how much he cares about your life and eternity. 
  2. Get into scripture: Read about Christmas and Easter in scripture. Don’t just read the words, but think about what God was up to. Here is God, the creator and sustainer of all things, chasing to leave heaven to be with us and to die for us. Are you letting the significance 
  3. Spend time in silence: Ok, we’re guys so we probably all dread such an exercise. But seriously gents, we need to spend some time in silence contemplating what God has done for us, what He is calling us to do, and we are (or are not) responding to that call in life. We need to really reflect on how our walk with God is, and be ready to make changes if we need to. 

Want to really get the most out of Christmas this year? Then put in the preparation this week. You’ll be glad you did! 

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