Author Archives: Andy Baker

So Easy, a Toddler can do it

A good number of years ago I was having a really bad day.  I can’t remember what exactly had happened, but I had come home from church visibly upset and marched straight to our bedroom. Soon after, I heard the tell-tale sons of my toddler son heading towards the room. The door slowly creaked open, the sound of little feet could be heard, then the huffing and puffing as he pulled his little body up into the bed, and finally his trade-mark: the sound of him sucking on his pacifier. He sat next to me on the bed, staring at my troubled face. Soon he did something he had never done before. He popped his pacifier out of his mouth and tried to give it to me. Now, before you are grossed out, think about this for a second. This was his prized possession, the thing he never let out of his sight (well, not without a great deal of screaming anyways). This was the one thing that could make him happy when he was sad, and here he was giving it to me. I realized that his little one year old brain had realized that daddy was sad, and that his reaction to this was to sacrificially give the thing that always made him happy. And, for the curious, while I did graciously accept his pacifier, and his gift certainly did brighten my day, I chose not to utilize it. 

I was, and still am, amazed that a one-year old already understood empathy and sacrificial giving. He understood then something that many of us struggle with at all stages of our lives. While we all understand the importance of helping others, and even sacrificing to do so, we struggle to put it into action. Paul lays out the importance of serving others, even if it means doing so at a cost, in Hebrews 13:

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:14-16

Because Christ sacrificed so much for us we are called to sacrificially serve others too. It may be by taking a risk and witnessing to someone, taking the time to involve ourselves in a new ministry, or spending more then simply a few dollars to bless someone in need. Serving others sacrificially really is so easy that even a toddler can do it! This week, lets all being looking for opportunities to serve others in a loving way, even if we must sacrifice to do so. 

The Good in Front of You

Thanks to songs, cartoons, and various retellings, the Battle of Jericho has become as well known as virtually any story in Western Civilization. Yet, an important part of this story often gets left out: if it would have been left up to the people of Israel this miraculous event would have never occurred. The story really begins when Moses sends spies into the Promised Land. The majority of the group was so freaked out by the warlike people they saw they sent the people into a panic: 

“We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are. The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height.” Numbers 13:31-32

There was one in the group, Caleb, that saw things differently. Caleb was not naive, reckless, or merely trying to curry favor with the people. Rather, instead of doubting the abilities of the Israelites, he trusted in the power and faithfulness of God. 

“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey.” Numbers 14:7-8

What does Caleb’s optimism and faith get him? Well, at first it almost gets him stoned by the pessimistic people. Fortunately, God inspires the people and convinces them to have faith in His plan and faithfulness. My question today is, are we more like Caleb, or are we more like the people of Israel? In other words, in the face of difficulty in our lives, do we have faith in the power and faithfulness of God, or do we get overcome by fear? I’ll be honest, there are times in my life when I let my fear in the face of difficulty prevent me from trusting God. Over the past few months our family has experienced A LOT of problems with vehicles, which has stretched us financially and practically (we’ve gotten a crash course in using public transportation here in Nicaragua, which is a LITTLE different then the states). I have had many moments during these months where I have wondered why in the world we are here. In the end, I’ve realized I need to have faith in God and His guidance. Instead of worrying about the difficulty in front of us we need to trust in the good God will do in front of us. If the Israelites would have let their fear lead them they would have never experienced the miraculous victory at Jericho, let alone the prosperity of the promise land. Let’s not miss opportunities to see God work in mighty ways. Like Caleb before us let us trust in God’s love, strength, and plan, knowing that God is always going before us to pave our way. 

But I am only ______________

Dwight Moody was born in Massachusetts in 1837 to an extremely poor family. His father died when he was little, leaving his mother to support a large family. Having no other recourse, his mother sent him off at a young age to work for his food, housing, and education. At 17 he moved to Boston, where he was promptly turned down for dozens of jobs. He finally accepted a position at his uncle’s shoe store, on the condition that he attend church every week. While he followed this stipulation, let’s just say his enthusiasm for church was not exactly great. As his Sunday School teacher recounted:

“I can truly say that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my class; and I think that the committee of the Mount Vernon Church seldom met an applicant for membership more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of Gospel truth, still less to serve of any public usefulness.”

Yet, God began working in Dwight, and he soon became not only a believer, but felt called to ministry. Despite lacking virtually every traditional skill of a pastor (and being only semi-literate) Moody began his ministry career. As he would later put it, he entered the ministry with only a Bible and his character. Yet, over his time in ministry, he would become one of the leading evangelists in American history. Crowds of over 20,000 came to hear him preach, and hundreds of thousands were reached through his ministry. Owing to his own struggles with illiteracy he developed a wordless Bible to teach the gospel to the illiterate. This wordless Bible would be adapted by missionaries for use around the globe and has been used to reach MILLIONS of people with the gospel. Moody may not have had a lot of skills and gifts, but what he did have he fully used for God.

We see a similar lesson taught to the prophet Jeremiah:

I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘but I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:4-8

I share all this because I often hear people share that God can’t fully use them because they are only ______. They are too young, not intelligent enough, not a good speaker, not a good student, only a farmer/laborer/mechanic/etc. Yet, history and the Bible is chocked full of instances of God using people with limited gifts and abilities. And you know why that is? Because ALL humans have limited gifts and abilities. We are all “only” something. What is important is that we reach the conclusion that Dwight Moody and Jeremiah did, and use the “only” that we do have to be a blessing.

Between God and the World

A common method of transport in Managua is moto-taxi. Drivers tend to personalize their moto-taxis with flamboyant stickers and decals, often of famous brands (especially Nike) and sports teams. As Nicaragua tends to be a very religious country many have religious decals, either as an expression of their faith or as a way to attract religious costumers. This week I found myself riding in a rather curious moto-taxi. On one side of windshield was a Playboy Bunny sticker, while on the other was a decal of the crucified Christ. This juxtaposition of the sacred and the worldly really struck me. Here was the Playboy Bunny, one of the most overtly worldly symbols I can think of, right next to Jesus, the holiest symbol there is.

This juxtaposition really struck a chord with me, because I feel most of us live out a daily struggle between following God and following the world. We live a Christian life when it is convenient (at church, around Christian friends, etc.), but we live a very worldly life when it seems more convenient (when it helps us get ahead, when we are around worldly friends and influences, etc.). We know that we should live a life that follows the way of Jesus, but we so often give into the worldly temptations surrounding us. Lucky for us, Jesus knew that we would all face this problem. This is what he prayed on our behalf:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified] in truth. John 17:15-19

Here are some key things for us to remember as we fight the daily battle between follow God and following the ways of the world:

  1. Jesus has CHOSEN to keep us in this world. Why? So that he can use us to make this world a better place. There is a reason that each of us is in this world, even if we can’t always understand it. When we follow his ways we not only live the life He has created us to live, but also position ourselves to best impact others.
  2. Jesus asks God to make us holy. In other words, he asks God to help us deal with the temptation to chase worldly things. God answers this prayer by providing us the Truth of Scripture and the guidance, conviction, and presence of the Holy Spirit. God wants to help you be more like Jesus, you simply have to choose to follow Him.
  3. Jesus dies for our mistakes. When we do fall into temptation Jesus’ death of the cross saves us for all eternity.

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

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