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Key Ingredient to Thanksgiving Gatherings

By Chris Baxter

Thanksgiving week is just around the corner. It's time to gather together!

As we start our holiday lists that can get rather long and stress-filled, let's remember that fellowship is our main focus. The people in our homes are more important than the four walls of our homes. The decorative table is the mere backdrop to the conversation around it. We want the food to taste delicious, but we want the laughter and love to be just as rich! It's embedded in us to desire unity in our family, but how do we gain this gift? I want to suggest a key ingredient is prayer. The Lord reminds me often that prayer is the "secret sauce" to any gathering.

So, as we start our lists this week, as we go to the grocery store, as we lay out our meal plans and clean our bedrooms, etc, let's decide to use this time in quiet prayer, thanking God for each individual that will enter our homes during the holiday season. Name them out loud as you lift them to the Lord.

Thank God for the opportunity to gather!

Ask Him to be present in every conversation and every interaction.

Ask Him to be the strongest voice and the greatest love and the sweetest blessing in the midst of your family.

Ask Him to bless your home with both his presence and his peace.

Our homes are our a gift from the Lord. I've never been without one, and I would imagine, the majority of you have been blessed in this way as well. Our hospitality is our gift back to God. He delights to see us gather together!

"How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity." Psalm 133:1

So let's trim down our to-do lists and beef up our prayer lists. In doing so, we will be more eager to open up our doors with warm and thankful hearts.

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the gift of our homes. We take for granted the pleasures of kitchens and bathrooms, comfortable beds and cozy dens. Again, we praise you for your tangible goodness to us! As a gift back to you, help us to prepare our hearts for this upcoming holiday. As you know, where people gather, so do potential problems. Relationships are hard to navigate at times! We ask for your mercy and your grace even now. Please Lord, bless us richly with your unifying love. Amen.

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Glorious Fall

By Chris Baxter

I grew up in the deep southern woods of Mississippi--lots and lots of pine trees towered over our home. So when I moved "way up here" in Tennessee, the colorful fall season took me by surprise. Year after year, I am mesmerized by the radiant reds, the fiery oranges, and the brilliant golds bursting from every tree and bush--incredible, breath-taking beauty.


I'm sure I am not the first to correlate God's seasons with His love story through Christ:


Fall speaks to us about His dying for us on the cross.

Winter represents His burial, enclosed in a death that we will never have to endure.

Spring shouts about His resurrection... a newness of life for all who believe.

And Summer proclaims the ongoing growth and abundance of this new life.

               

So, here we are again in the seasonal cycle; the glorious fall surrounds us. It's hard to believe these brilliant leaves on the trees are actually dying. But isn't that exactly what happened at the cross? Listen to Jesus' words to His Father, just before He was taken into custody:


Father, it's time. Display the bright splendor of Your Son so the Son in turn may show Your bright splendor." (msg, John 17:1)


Two thousand years ago, the King of Glory hung on a tree, dying. His fiery passion for the world He loved held Him there, not the nails. His perfect crimson blood was willingly shed for you and me. And as our Savior's life was drained from Him, it was the most tragically beautiful gift to behold. Before the darkness of "winter" encroached, the Light of the World triumphantly cried out, "It is finished." Indeed, it was awe-full.


Today, this day, when I see the radiance all around me and watch these colorful trees of the field clapping their hands, I know why they're applauding. I want to join them in honor of the King that gave His life a ransom for many. So I too, will praise Him, and thank Him... for His glorious Fall.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Four Life Changing Words

By Chris Baxter

These 4 words can save a life.

I attended a fund raiser with my husband Mac the other night in which Pursue Ministries had a guest speaker. This godly man, Mario Zandstra, spoke to us about how to share the gospel using 4 words:

Sin

Guess what? Sin marks ALL of us, from mass murderer to unkind thinker.

Separation

When we realize that our one “small speck” of an unkind thought or stir-the-pot gossip can separate us from holiness, we’re finally understanding our accurate position before God. No human-good-work is good enough to cover our “big or tiny” sin-mark!

Substitute

BUT GOD…in his rich mercy and with his great love sent his Son, Jesus, to forgive your sin and mine! He chose to be the one and only perfect sacrifice for an imperfect people. Our faith in him is our “ticket” to HIS righteousness.

Salvation

Not only did Jesus die on the cross but he also rose from the dead, which means he was victorious over both sin and death. If you believe this truth, not only do you have the opportunity to have his Spirit living inside of you today to help you navigate your life in this still-messy-world, but you also have a perfect inheritance waiting for you in heaven. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving, forever!

These four words: SIN, SEPARATION, SUBSTITUTE, SALVATION are for you, for me, and for anyone that God lays on your heart. The news is too good (and too critical) to keep to ourselves, so think about who it is that you can share it with. Lay fear down, pick courage up.

Just think, God may use you as the messenger to save this person’s life.

ps A challenge for you...find the four words/points in this passage...then celebrate its truth!

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Titus 3: 3-7

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

What is Greatness?

By Chris Baxter

If I asked you to define "greatness," how would you respond?

Would it have to do with your job? Climbing that ladder?

Would it have to do with your influence? Checking those numbers?

Would it be tied to your bank account? Counting your income?

I think in a same-but-different kind of way, we humans equate greatness with anything that feeds our ego: whatever is "higher, bigger, or more" regarding the thing we crave. This sounds silly, but even in my small world of being a 55 year-old Christian writer, I wrestle with wanting to "be great." I want to "change the world for Christ!" This seems honorable, but then, I have learned that sometimes my underlying motives are sorta stinky. Do I want to be great for me? Or do I want to do great work for God? A question for us all to answer.

To put it bluntly, the definitions above are rather skewed when observing what Jesus has to say about greatness. He actually achieved ALL of the above definitions; after all, he is the King of kings! However, he willingly left his lofty throne, shed his royal robes, and entered into our mixed up world in order to show us a thing or two...

A day in the life of Jesus:

One day, Jesus was with his (messy, mixed up) disciples, and two in particular, James and John, were feeling pretty high and mighty. They boldly asked Jesus for the privilege of sitting on his right and left side when he came to power. (They mistakenly thought he would reign as an earthly king in their lifetime.) In a paraphrased nutshell, Jesus responded, "Sorry, brothers, you have no idea what you're talking about."

But then, in the same conversation, in order to make a dramatic point, Jesus went on to say (again paraphrased), "You want to be great? Then...serve."

The brothers most likely said, or maybe they just thought to themselves at this point, "What?! Serve? Are you crazy, Jesus?! We were wanting to sit down; to lord over; to have power; to be applauded, etc."

In this dialogue, listen to what the oh-so-patient Teacher said to the flustered brothers:

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-44

Jesus served the sick, the poor, and the lost. Are these kinds of people in your way as you are on your road to self-paved greatness? Can you entertain the opposite; that they are in your way for a purpose? You may have been blessed with a significant title, or a powerful influence, or a lot of money. Wonderful! How can you use these gifts and abilities in regards to Jesus' definition of greatness? Choose to answer this question and then make an impact.

It is true that we are made in the image of God, but I don't believe it's for the purpose of sitting on HIS powerful throne which is reserved for him alone. We are to bear his image in the likeness of a servant. The more we understand and live by this fact, the GREATER impact we will make for his kingdom. Notice, our service to others impacts his kingdom.

In order to be about his kingdom, we must lay down "our kingdom."

So Lord, help us.

Change our thoughts about what it means to be great. When we start to climb that ladder, or to check those numbers, or to count our income, cause us to pause...and then help us to put these temporary and selfish ambitions down. Then make us determined to serve. We are YOUR image bearers! Put one person on our heart each day, and may your greatness be poured out from us into that individual. YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done, one person, one day, at a time. Amen.

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Monday, September 26, 2022

Hats off to those who Labor

By Chris Baxter

Labor Day weekend is upon us.

People are either traveling to their long-weekend destinations, or they've made the conscious decision to put their pj's on and their feet up.

Either way, this extra day of reprieve is welcomed.

I just wanted to pause and say "thank you" to all the hard workers out there. You deserve the day off! And for those of you who are working on this holiday, you deserve a "double thank you!"

We're living in a time that a no-work-ethic is accepted, and even rewarded. In turn, this makes the day even harder for those who are choosing to get up and punch a clock.

Be encouraged; you are not going unnoticed. You are doing the right thing.

Even in a perfect world, work was the "right thing":

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Gen. 2:15). Adam and Eve got up in the morning and maintained the garden that God created. Work is in our DNA from the beginning. (Sadly, through Adam and Eve's disobedience, the curse of "thorns and thistles" entered their world, and we're still enduring it to this day, which makes work...HARD.)

True, work is hard! But it's also good.

I believe "getting your hands dirty" is a blessing.

It's character building.

It's mind stretching.

It's skill refining.

It's purpose finding.

It's social interacting.

It's personally gratifying.

And on a bigger and more impactful scale than status climbing, it can be God-glorifying...

So workers...Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 9:10

From medical people to waitresses to teachers to musicians to ditch diggers to builders to firefighters to bankers, from blue collar to white collar, from stay-at-homers to downtown-office-goers...hats off to each of you!

Thank you for making your mark in this world.

Yes, all you laborers out there, enjoy your day off.

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Friday, September 2, 2022

Stand at the Crossroads

By Chris Baxter

As I'm making my way through the Bible this year, Jeremiah is now "up" on my reading radar.

Hmmm, what a book so far. Once again, the contrast between God's desires for us and our own fleshly-desires are vast.

Here is a verse that caught my attention:

This is what the Lord said, "Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, "We will not walk in it." Jeremiah 6:16

In this verse I see the verbs:

stand

look

ask

walk.

Often, when making moment to moment choices or even longterm decisions, we skip over the first 3 verbs and just walk forward, doing what "feels" right.

Or ... we might take the time to stand, look, and ask, but if we don't get the answer we want, we justify our path-choice, or make up our own rules, and reply to our Loving God in just the same way the people in Jeremiah's day did: "We will not walk in it."

Let me tell you, things did not go well for the people in Jeremiah's day. We can learn from them!

Here are two blatant truths I gathered from this one verse this morning:

1. When we stand, look, ask, and then walk down God's path (which is laid out for us in his divine word), the result is REST for our SOULS. This does not mean we will have a trial free existence; but it does mean that we will have God-given-soul-rest (his peace) within us as we walk through our trials. I love how this truth is restated by Christ himself over 500 years later:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.   Matthew 11:28-29

2. By deduction, the opposite is true as well, when we choose to say to our loving God concerning his ancient words, "We will not walk in it" or, "Thank you God, but no thank you," we then forfeit what he longs to give us. In this case, we tend to trade soul-rest for anything that will either numb the pain or fleetingly satisfy.

My friend, which way are you headed?

Before going forward, how about we both take a few extra minutes today to stand, look, and ask God about our next steps? Let's be patient and listen for his answer. What does his timeless word say about your present-day decision?

And then, after he answers, let's walk together with our gentle and humble Savior, Jesus.

We all crave soul-rest, and there's only One who can give it.

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Monday, August 8, 2022

Daily Prayer

Disarming powers and authorities

And having disarmed powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross. Colossians 2:15

Dear Lord Jesus,

There is no greater power than your own. All other authority and every stronghold has been overcome by your personal sacrifice on the cross. You took these to the grave and came out victorious. In the messiness of this life, as we live between the "now and not yet", help us to hold fast to this truth. Amen.