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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

A Prayer of Relinquishment

By Chris Baxter

Unclinch your fists...

Not too long ago in my morning quiet time, I came across a prayer written by Richard Foster, entitled "A Prayer of Relinquishment".

I wrote it down in my journal because, for me, it's a "keeper." The content of the prayer is simple yet profound, and can be prayed daily with new meaning behind each phrase.

Here is the prayer:

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to you.

May your will be my delight today.

May your way have perfect sway in me.

May your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to you my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions. Do with them what you will, when you will, as you will.

I place into your loving care my family, my friends, my future. Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into your hands

my need to control,

my craving for status,

my fear of obscurity.

Eradicate the evil, pacify the good, and establish your kingdom on earth.

For Jesus' sake. Amen.

Which line grabbed your attention?

When I first read it, I identified with these words, "I release into your hands...my fear of obscurity." Today, as I am typing, this particular line strikes a chord in my heart, "I place into your loving care my family, my friends, my future." Next time I pray this prayer, God will most likely highlight something else that needs tending to in my life. He's always working in me, pulling things to the surface so that I can bring my "stuff" (my worries, fears, doubts, wayward thoughts and actions, etc) to him. And how gracious and patient God is to help me open my hands back up, releasing it all, in full trust once again.

I encourage you to spend some time with the Lord today. Make a date and choose a quiet place to have a Heart-to-heart with him. Personalize this prayer. He will be delighted to listen to you, and as equally delighted to respond.

Unclinch your fists and relinquish whatever you're holding into the hands of your all knowing, all loving, almighty God.

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Monday, July 11, 2022

A Work Imprinted, Beforehand

By Chris Baxter

This past Sunday was no ordinary Sunday.

Our 29 year old son Bink joined us in Panama City Beach for the weekend.

I will allow his words to tell his story:

“I was sitting beachside and then got up to go into the ocean.

I heard some yelling going on and looked down the beach and thought maybe they were just playing. A guy near me was on a boogie board and called out to me, 'Sir I think they need some help.'

So I made my way over to the commotion alongside of the boogie board guy and that’s when I realized the current was much stronger. I have never felt anything like it. Crazy how powerful it was. I made my way over to two of the guys (a dad and his teenage son) and grabbed hold of them with my arms over their chest and tried to fight my way into shore with them.

I made a game time decision to take one at a time because of the rip current. I pushed forward with the son, found my footing and got him to the shore. I then turned and went and grabbed hold of the dad and got him safely to shore. He fell to the sand, laid out in exhaustion. The boogie board guy  got the other teenage son safely to shore.

Someone called 911 and they came. All of us were safe.”

The back story is this:

Bink has been training for months and months in the swimming pool so he can compete later in the summer and fall as a Masters swimmer. He's as strong as he's ever been. Little did he know he was training for something more than fast times at a swim meet. He certainly didn't know where he was going to be on the afternoon of June 12th.

But God did. He knew Bink was the man for this rescue job because, first of all, he made Bink rather passionate and fearless. And he also knew that Bink was now physically ready "for such a time as this."

It amazes me what God knows and what we do not! At times like this I marvel as the unfolding takes place.

And here's another "God-touch" to add to the story:

Months before this rescue day, I had taken the above picture on a morning beach walk. There were imprints of what looked like "Bink" all along the sand. Of course seeing his name made me pray for him, for his present and for his future. Little did I know that I was praying for his future works on the very beach I was walking.

This picture, along with the events of the day, reminded me of this verse:

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:20

I'm thankful for the outcome of this day.

I'm thankful for what God knows about our future.

Believe he has prepared good works for each one of us.

Let's be sure to walk in them.

We may not save a life today, but we certainly can encourage someone.

Live out what has already been imprinted by your Maker.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Full of...Something

By Chris Baxter

If someone were to describe you, what words would they use?

And, if you were to describe someone, what words would you assign to him or her?

These questions have come to mind because over the last month, I have been in the book of Acts and a couple of repetitious words have crossed my path. Catch the words "full of" in these short phrases:

--the apostles were full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4)

--the religious leaders were full of jealousy (Acts 5:17)

--the seven chosen men were full of the Spirit and of wisdom (Acts 6:3)

--Stephen was full of grace and power (Acts 6:8)

--Dorcas was full of good works and charity (Acts 9:36)

Take a moment and ask yourself, what am I "full of"?

Be honest with yourself and with the Lord. It's okay to admit that you might be full of:

fear and doubt,

pride and anger, or

stress and anxiety.

When we admit the condition of our hearts to the Lord, and want to change our ways, God can do amazing things in us! I have seen this clearly in the book of Acts. The same disciples that fled on the night of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion (full of fear and confusion) are now, full of the Spirit, and are courageously turning the world upside down with their faith. It's like these men are an entirely different group of Jesus' followers.

The same can be true for us. Ask the Lord to help you right where you are. What do you want to be full of? God, through the Holy Spirit will help you.

A second question is this:

If you were to describe someone in an honoring way, what would he or she be "full of"? Is there someone that comes to mind? Maybe reach out to this person and thank them for just being who they are in Christ. It's never a bad idea to encourage or thank someone. So do it today; be "full of" gratitude and kind words towards them. it might just change both of your days entirely.

We're all full of something. We get to chose what that something is. The truth is, there is no better privilege on earth than to be full of the Lord.

Dear Lord,

Thank you that the characteristics of your Holy Spirit can be beautifully displayed through each one of us. May we be full of YOU, not only for our own benefit, but also so that we can be a blessing to all those we encounter. Amen.




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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Daily Prayer

Amen

For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. 2 Corinthians 1:20

Dear Lord, if you say it, you mean it. If you promise it, you keep it. If you command it, it surely will come to pass. From start to finish, your word never wavers, and your foundation never cracks. Therefore, we will stand on your promises and we will walk without fear. Then as we trust in you more and more, cause us to dance in your truth with all our might. Amen