Author Archives: Andy Baker

Making Prayer Real

In Jesus’ day prayer had become very much misunderstood and missed used. Jesus relates how it was common in synagogues to see supposedly pious men praying long, elaborate, and very visible prayers. The problem with their prayers was not that they were public, but rather that they were incredibly self-serving. It would not have been unheard of to hear a prayer along the following line:
“Oh most high and glorious God, thank you for creating me. Thank you for my great intelligence, my extreme piety, my heroic leadership, and my astonishing appearance. Thank you that I am not like Frank, Harry, Sally and Bob, who do not follow you with nearly the passion I do.”
While that may seem like a far-out example, it’s pretty spot on to what was happening. Jesus shares a very similar example in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus also shared that many people had made prayer a highly complex affair. The felt that a good prayer necessitated big words, great length, and showed how deeply educated the person praying was. Jesus rejected this notion as well.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-8

The big point Jesus was making is that prayer is really a relational conversation between us and Him, the one who created us, sustains us, and saves us. Prayer is a time when we come before our Holy Father and share whatever is on our mind. In doing this we not only connect to God, but we give Him great honor. Pastor Rick Warren once shared that “The greatest gift we can give somebody is our attention, because to give attention is to give of your life, and you can’t take that back.” Unlike giving money or possessions we can in no way ever get our time back. Giving our time to someone is a permanent gift, and thus places it among the leading ways we can show honor to someone. My question to all of us is: are we truly connecting with God in prayer and showing Him the honor He deserves? Or, are we making prayer a self-serving practice like many in Jesus’s day? Let us give God the honor he deserves by taking time daily to connect with Him in prayer, sharing our joys, our thanks, our sins, and our needs with Him.

Through the Storm

Due to the socio-political crisis in Nicaragua I am “supreme commuting this year,” living in Nicaragua for two months then returning to my family in the States for two weeks. My body has definitely acclimatized to the tropics, so much so that 70 degrees makes me shiver. The winter storm that greeted my arrival in Iowa this past weekend was thusly a definite doozy! I was supposed to preach at a church several hours away on Sunday, and while we made it there church was canceled. We ended up getting stuck there for an extra day, and even with waiting a day the drive home was incredibly anxious. It took twice as long as normal, we counted over 20 cars in the ditches, and my nerves were in knots by the time we arrived home. I certainly don’t miss these crazy Iowa winter storms. 

I can’t imagine that there are many, if any, people that live without worry and anxiety. They are simply a part of our human existence. The problem is that worry and anxiety can keep us from living the life God has called us to live. In fact, worry is probably the #1 reason I hear people give for not serving God. “I would do that, but I worry I’d do poorly” or “I’d love to donate more, but I’m worried about how that would affect my bank account.” Think about this in your own life: how often does worry stop you from serving God and others? 

There is a famous scripture where Jesus and his disciples trying to cross the Sea of Galilee. Jesus told his disciples that they were going to cross the sea together, then went inside to sleep during the journey. The small vessel encountered an enormous storm, which greatly worried the disciples. As they nervously tried to hold the ship together they were dismayed that Jesus, who had told them to cross the sea in the first place, was sleeping through it all. They even accused Jesus of not caring about their predicament. Upon waking up Jesus simply said “peace, be still!” and the storm ceased. He then admonished the disciples for their lack of faith in him. 

Jesus told his disciples he would take them to the other shore, and he had no intent on reneging on that promise. Jesus has made us some huge promises in our life. He has promised to be with us, to love us through all things, and to give us eternal life in a perfect heaven. No matter what difficulties and storms we encounter in life those promises remain firm. Look friends, I totally understand that there is A LOT to be nervous about in our world today. But, I also know that there is not a single storm that can expel Christ’s presence, love, and salvation from our lives. In our moments of worry, nerves, and anxiety lets take a moment to remember that Jesus’ presence, love, and salvation will always be with us, and that they are much greater than any difficulty we can encounter. 

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. 

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