Author Archives: Andy Baker

Red Letter Day Part 3: I am Thirsty

Today we are continuing our Lenten series on the final words of Jesus as he suffered and died on the cross. Today’s words come from John 19:28-29:  After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

About six or seven years ago I decided to bike the High Trestle Trail near Ankeny. I had just bought a new carbon fiber bike, and was fairly convinced I was king of the world, so the 100-degree temperatures did not scare me. A friend had told me it was a 25-mile ride, so I planned accordingly. When I hit 15 miles, and was not near the end of the trail, I realized I had misinterpreted my friend. I thought he meant it was 25 miles roundtrip, while in reality its 25 miles out and another 25 back. At this point a wise person would have turned around, realizing they didn’t have enough water for a 50 mile trip on such a hot day. A stubborn and pride swollen fool, however, presses onward convinced of his might and invincibility. I eventually ran out of water on a section of the trail without any water sources. The experience of getting that thirsty and dehydrated is one I can do without experiencing again! I soon lost my energy, could barely pedal, and had to resort to walking my bike. All I could think about was water as my body got progressively weaker and weaker. By the time I reached water my body was so dehydrated that it kept throwing it back up. I eventually had to call 911 and have an ambulance come and give me fluids intravenously. It was a scary reminder of how necessary water is to human life. 

When I hear Jesus say he is thirsty in this passage I am reminded that without Him we would be thirsty for all eternity. Just like we would die without water, without the living water of Jesus eternal life in God’s perfect heaven is impossible for us. I think this is one reason hardly anyone seems satisfied in life, regardless of their financial wealth and possessions. God didn’t create us to only thrive off of worldly things, but to need the living water of Christ. It is only Christ who can truly satisfy and provide for us for all eternity. Jesus teaches us this in John 4:13-14:

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. 

This lent, I pray that your wants and desires can be quenched by the living water of Christ Jesus. Instead of spending so much effort searching for worldly satisfaction, let the eternal gift of living water be that which truly satisfies you now and forever more. 


Red Letter Day: Father, Forgive Them

This lent we are walking through the final words that Jesus uttered before dying on the cross for our sins. We find today’s words in the heartwrenching story found in Luke 23:32-34. 

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:32-34

While I have never suffered anything in the ballpark of crucifixion, I have had a couple of scary moments in my life. One was in a triathlon in Chicago, with an open water swim in Lake Michigan. The water was 59 degrees with 20 mph winds, which made for extremely hazardous conditions. To top it off, it was a pier start, meaning your body has no time to acclimate to the water. About 30 seconds in I switched from trying to achieve a good time to simply attempting to make it out alive! Another scary moment was when our family flipped our SUV on our way home one Christmas. We spun out of control long enough, and flipped enough times, for me to realize this could be it. It was a pretty scary moment. 

Notice what I thought about each time? Myself. Maybe in the back of my mind my family was there, but I was pretty much concerned with self-preservation. Contrast that with Jesus. What is he concerned with as he dies an excruciating death on the Cross? Forgiving others. In the midst of all that Jesus is concerned with others receiving forgiveness. Yet, many of us (including this writer), struggle to forgive others in substantially less trying circumstances. We have a harder time forgiving someone who cuts us off on the road or, even worse, violates the sacred rules of the Oskaloosa McDonald’s drive-through lane (I have not been there for five years, but drive-through budgers drive me crazy!). Yet God, who created our world perfectly, and watched our sinfulness mess it all up, was willing to suffering and die so that we may be forgiven. If God can forgive, why can’t we? 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

I really encourage you today to take a few minutes to forgive someone you’ve not yet forgiven. Maybe it’s for something that happened yesterday, or something 30 years ago. Let’s not forget Christ’s example this lent, and instead forgive those who have wronged us. 

Red Letters: Judged in our Place

I’ve recently found myself defending the idea of lent, as it has a number of negative connotations in Nicaragua. I believe Lent is important because it is a time to prepare for celebrating the greatest gift we have ever received: the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The events of Good Friday and Easter are so important that it’s not enough to celebrate them for only a day or two. As we head into Easter, I want to encourage us to spend time preparing to celebrate the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Christ Jesus. In my devotions during this season I’m going to focus on the final words of Jesus on the Cross, as I feel reflecting on them will help us begin grasping the greatness of the gift Jesus’ has mercifully given us. 

The first phrase I want us to reflect on comes from Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We can get hung up here on why Jesus would ask this question. Let me offer two possibilities. First, Jesus was actually experiencing pain on the cross. Yes, Jesus was God in human form, but he could also experience pain and suffering. His crying out shows that he actually suffered on our behalf. Second, the question he asked is (in my opinion) as much for us as it was for God. Why did Jesus have to die? Allow me to explain in the form of a story (which I long ago borrowed from a source I can no longer remember). 

Imagine you have come to the end of your life and you awake to find yourself being taken into a giant celestial courtroom. You’re seated at the defense table, while to one side of you is an impeccably dressed prosecutor. Over many days this prosecutor describes each and every one of your sins, leaving not the slightest misstep unmentioned.  As the hours and days drag on you become ever more hopeless, realizing that you are indeed guilty of each and every sin you are accused of. After days of accusations, the prosecutor rests his case, and the judge raises his gavel to make his decision. He quickly and authoritatively declares you guilty. But then something strange happens. The judge steps down from his podium and walks towards you. He rather forcefully pushes you out of the way and declares “this person is guilty, but I will take their punishment.” He then turns to you, points towards heaven, and says “child, you are now free to enjoy eternity in my Father’s House.” 

Why did Jesus have to die? Because only the judge can be judged for the sins of the world. Jesus is the Judge who is judged in our place. He alone can judge the world, and He chooses to step in and take our punishment because of His love and grace. Thanks be to Christ, who loving chooses to be judged in our place. 


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. 

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