Author Archives: Andy Baker

Managing Dynamite and Faith

Alfred Nobel was a rare breed of genius. Despite only attending school 18 months during his lifetime he held over 350 different patents, the most famous of which was for dynamite. While we think of dynamite as an element of war and violence, Nobel set about creating it for one reason: safety. The leading explosive of the day, nitroglycerin, was notoriously unpredictable. It caused a serious explosion at Nobel’s own factory that killed five people, including his own brother. In creating dynamite Nobel was creating a tool that would have substantial explosive power for the mining industry, as well as prevent future deaths like his brother’s. Indeed, dynamite would come to play a key role in many industries up to the present day, but its use in war and terrorism tends to receive all the focus. In fact, an erroneously published obituary referring to Nobel as the “merchant of death” for the creating dynamite led Nobel to leave the vast majority of his fortune to promoting peace through the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Dynamite, and the various other useful explosives developed from it, can be extremely positive. Without it many important mining projects, road projects, and development projects could have never safely happened. Unfortunately, dynamite can also be used for nefarious purposes as well. It is obviously a double-edged sword that has to be used with wisdom and care. Believe it or not, being a Chrisitan is quite similar to this. We have the potential to do so many good things: lead people to Christ, improve the lives of the poor, love the downtrodden, equip future leaders, grow the faith of others, and so much more.

There is so much positive that can come out of our Chrisitan life. But, if we are not careful, we can also do harm. We can be overly judgemental, hypocritical, self-centered instead of others-centered, focused on our wants rather than other’s needs, and more. There is an old DC Talk song that opens with the prophetic line: “the biggest single cause of atheism today is Christians.” Honestly, from my experiences, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I’ve talked to so many people who are open to God, but because of how they’ve been treated by Christians they have no desire to get close to God or His church. Look at Paul’s teaching in James 4:11-12:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

It is not our role to judge or condemn, but to make others better. We’ve been given a powerful responsibility as followers of Christ, one even more powerful than dynamite. May we always use it to improve others and not to inflict harm. 

My Big Fat Mouth: Criticism

They say baseball is our national pastime, but I would challenge that. No, I’m not here to instead make the case for basketball or football. No, I’d argue that the real national pastime in the United States is criticizing others. Not only do we generate copious amount of critiques, but we’re really good at developing incredibly scathing and vociferous critiques. Over the years I’ve been shocked by how cruel criticisms can be, and my experiences have mostly come within the church! I have seen so much hurt and pained caused by harsh criticism, and have seen numerous amazingly gifted people walk away from church because of such hurts. I would suppose things are even worse in the secular workplace. And then there is the world of politics. Wow! The just scathing criticisms we toss around at others based on their political views is pretty mind-boggling. As scathing criticism because more and more normative, I think it’s appropriate to ask ourselves the following: does God really want us to use such biting criticism? 

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:14-15

This is certainly not the only place we are taught about neighbor love. To love our neighbor means that we love everyone in the world around us as we love ourselves. Put as my mother always put it to me (with her finger wagging in my face): treat everyone as you would want them to treat you. Do we really want people to criticize us in the highly negative ways we see in the world? I’m not talking here of helpful critiques done in a loving manner. I’m talking about the really negative stuff done in a far from loving manner. If we don’t like being on the receiving end of such criticism, then we should be making every effort to never be on the giving end. Look at the second verse here very closely. That is something I fear I’ve seen way to often in God’s church. For whatever reason, whether it be our desire for control, our personal preferences, or something else, this is far too often what is happening in the church. Instead of the family of God being a body of love and nourishment, too often it is a place where we bite and devour each other Mike Tyson style.

Here’s my suggestion for all of us. Instead of being fault finders, lets be hope dealers. Instead of pointing out the flaws, let’s give encouragement. Instead of tearing someone down when they mess up, let’s help them do better the next time. God does not want us to be a people that constantly tear each other apart, but rather a people that strengthens one another with the love and grace of God. Stop looking for fault in others, and instead start being a regular dealer of hope.  

My Big Fat Mouth: Lying

I’ve been reading the book The Big Short by Michael Lewis (which inspired the movie). The book is a re-telling of the causes and events leading up to the subprime mortgage crisis, which eventually led to a global economic crisis. While the whole subprime disaster can be difficult to concisely explain (Lewis’ book is considered short, concise, and simple, yet is still 300 pages) one theme kept striking me: lies. The global economy came crashing down in 2007-2008 largely because of the massive mountain of lies being told. Home buyers were often lied to, told they could afford homes they simply could not. The guys approving the loans lied to their bosses, saying people had the ability to repay their loans, when they obviously did not. The ratings industries lied to investors, telling them these loans were fail-proof and a perfect investment, when in reality they were basically destined to fail. Millions of people lost their homes, their pensions, and their retirement plans because of all the lies that were being told. 

God is pretty clear on His view of lying. He absolutely hates it! The command to not lie makes the Ten Commandments, as well as the lists of things that He hates and are an abomination to Him (Proverbs 6:16-19). Checkout this passage from Paul in Ephesians: 

assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:21-25 

I hope you actually read that, because that’s some awesome stuff! Paul is telling us that Jesus and the message he teaches us is the Truth. If we believe and follow that Truth then all lies and falsehoods need to be thrown out of our lives. We are new creations in Christ, and therefore we need to stop the lies and the falsehoods of the world around us, and instead always speak the truth. Why?

  1. Because lies hurt: I’m guessing that all of us have been hurt by lives in your life. As seen in the global financial collapse of 2008 lies can cause pain throughout the entire world. 
  2. Because Jesus is all about Truth: Jesus embodied the absolute opposite of lying and falsehood. Lies were one of the number one things he stood against. 
  3. Because we are new creations in Christ: As people saved by Jesus’ love we’re expected to not live like everyone else, but to instead live like Jesus. We’re called to stop the cycle of hurt caused by lies, and instead live lives of truth and love.

Let’s start following Christ’s examples, cutting the lies our of our life and replacing them with words of truth and love. 

My Big Fat Mouth: Complaining

I’m usually very flowery in my openings, but today allow me to be pretty blunt. Can you imagine what would happen if we took all the time we spend complaining and actually harnassed it for good? Frankly, we’d likely have little to complain about because we would have pretty effectively wiped out the majority of ills in our world. From my experience, we spend WAY to much time and energy complaining. We complain about our friends, our families, our political leaders, our churches, you name it. I remember one time I was sitting in a coffee shop in Oskaloosa and I could hear four conversations occurring around me. Two were complaining about their churches, one about family, and one about local politics. Complaining has become a pastime in our culture, a pastime expanded and exacerbated by the rise of social media. A recent study showed that the average person complains an average of 8 minutes a day. That adds up to 1,300 complaints a year, for a total of 53 hours (that’s more than a full week’s worth of work spent just complaining!). 

Check out what Paul has to tell us about complaining in Philippians: 

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Philippians 2:14-16

Paul is telling us that we need to stop wasting so much of our precious time and energy on complaining, and instead, spend more of our time shining for God in the midst of our oft dark world. Here’s a really simple suggestion: let’s start flipping our complaints into praises. The reality is that the vast majority of our complaints don’t serve any positive purpose. They often don’t solve any problems or make us feel any better, indeed they often serve to make things worse. Instead of getting caught in the negativity, let’s flip it around. Complaining about the food? Spend time being grateful that God has provided you food on a daily basis (which is not the case for 815 million people in our world). Didn’t like the music in church today? Give praises to God for all the great things He has done in your life. Don’t like your political leaders? Thank God that He, and not any frail human being, is the ultimate leader of the universe. Let’s stop getting caught in the constant cycle of complaining, and instead start giving more and more thanks for all the good that we have been blessed with. 

My Big Fat Mouth

I’ve fallen off a bicycle more times than I care to count, and have a variety of scars to show for it. I’ve been thrown off a four-wheeler, been in two roll-over accidents, and had my appendix out.  Yet, I can honestly say that what has caused more hurt in my life than any of the above physical pains has been that caused by words. I can vividly remember names I was called in elementary school, friends that broke my trust, rumors that were spread about me, and times I was flat-out lied to. Many of those hurts still sting, even many years later. What’s even more painful for me to admit, is I know my words have hurt others. There have been times that my anger has gotten the best of me, and I’ve spewed things I desperately wanted back. Other times I’ve gotten caught up in gossip and lies that ran their course in hurtful manners. Yet, I’m guessing for every time I’m regretful for how I’ve used my words there is another time (or more) that I’ve totally forgotten about.

Here’s what James has to say about the power of our words.

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. James 3:3-4

James is telling us that words are a REALLY big deal. He points out that while a ship may be massive, in reality, it is controlled by a tiny instrument called a rudder. It’s similar with our words. They may seem like a really small thing, but they make a massive impact. As seen above, they can cause a ton of pain. BUT, they can also do a lot of good. I would never have known about the love of forgiveness of Jesus had someone not shared it with me. A major reason I am in ministry today is because of the many encouraging words people shared with me over the years. The reason I can get through some of the most difficult moments in my life is the words of love and encouragement others have shared with me. The words that come out of our big fat mouths, and are big fat texting fingers, have the power to impact lives in big and powerful ways, both for good and bad. This week, I encourage you to really think about your words. What impact are they having? Is it an impact God would approve of? Realize the words coming from your mouths and fingers are some of the most powerful resources you will have ever. Make sure you are being the best stewards of them possible. 

 

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