Monday, November 30, 2009


Normally, I'm not a fan of ornaments (as in ornamentation that gives an air of fanciness), but when it comes to ornaments on the Christmas tree...they become living histories of family life. As predicted, Sara and I spent much of Friday and Saturday putting up Christmas decorations. We love it. It's one of our favorite times of the year and while we put up ornaments we remember and smile (you know that smile that says, "yeah, that was fun"?). We have collected ornaments since we were married and we have boxes, but some always make the tree. Here are just a few (I mean just a few, we literally have hundreds) of the ornaments and the stories behind them:

1. Sara's mom and dad passed down some ornaments from their early years of marriage which are walnuts rolled in glitter. They were poor, but creative! And when the lights shine on them, they are beautiful!

2. A ceramic Mary holding baby Jesus that says "Baby's first Christmas". It was in 1988 and Mikey was a month old when a youth sponsor in Lexington bought it for us. Sorry, no special ornament for Caleb's first year (that's what happens when you're not firstborn).

3. We have some gold musical instruments that we bought on our honey moon in Gatlingburg TN (insert your jokes here). We have always been fans of Christmas and we always remember that day in the Christmas store in May (with matching airbrushed t-shirts).

4. A new one is a replica Corinthian wine pitcher from our trip to Greece last year. It's a cool reminder of walking in the ruins of the ancient Bible city and what life there must have been.

5. We have a glass nativity set of ornaments that Sandi Knapp brought back to us from Russia after one mission trip she went on. Very cool.

6. We have a glass ball with a picture of a former small group that we were in (Lynne Sugai made it for everyone in the group). We always think about those people and those times when we put it on the tree.

7. There is a pretty fancy angel ornament that used to sit on the top of our tree when we were first married. When we moved to our current home we bought a 12 foot tree (it's huge) and so the former angel on top was too small for this big tree. We laugh at how out of control our tree is now.

8. We collect ornaments from places we have travelled like: paper stars from a Moravian settlement in North Carolina, an ivory ornament from Maui, a white house from our D.C. trip a couple of years ago, a minuteman from colonial Williamsburg, some boots from Prescott Arizona and of course an Indianapolis, Indiana ornament.

9. We have a collection of ornaments that Sara cross-stitched the first year we were married when we were in school - they always take us back to that humble mobile home at Johnson Bible College.

10. Of course, we have a Starbucks ornament - because I have a problem!

Monday, November 23, 2009's time for Christmas

O.K. it's Thanksgiving week and I'm ready for the holidays (Thanksgiving is pre-Christmas to me - I don't skip it...I just include it in the Christmas season). Here's what my soul needs right now that this season always seems to deliver:

1. Snow. Need to see one of my favorite creations falling from the sky. Yep, I'm praying for it (except on Saturday nights - it makes an excuse for people to skip church).

2. Family around the table. This t-giving will be just Sara and I and the boys, but it will be a rich family time (except that they have requested steak instead of Turkey - who raised these kids?).

3. Setting up the tree(s). One thing I look forward to every year is decorating the house for the season. It reminds me of growing up and all the family memories.

4. Some gingerbread cookies. O.K. my soul doesn't need them, but my sweet tooth does.

5. More lives changed by the Christ-child. I'm so blessed to see so many decisions for Jesus around here lately - and it just seems so special around this time of the year. It's why He came as a baby.

6. The thrill of giving. Jesus was quoted as saying, "it's more blessed to give than to receive". As in all of the other stuff he said...he's right. Can't wait to serve those who are in need in our community in a couple of weeks at IMAGINE.

7. to write some sermons about the birth of our Lord. This story never gets old...always amazes me and makes me love my God more. It is particularly thrilling that we are in our Luke series and hitting chapter two during this season (remember last season it was Deuteronomy).

8. A win by my Cowboys on thursday wouldn't hurt the holiday mood.

9. Some parties in red sweaters with people I like to laugh with.

10. A chance to reflect in a quiet living room lit only by Christmas lights and the glow of a fire place.

11. Seeing Grinch (the old cartoon one), A Christmas Story, Elf, Frosty, Rudolph and It's a Wonderful Life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

21 years ago

Well, yesterday was my oldest son's 21st birthday. Besides making me wonder if someone is getting old; i had some time last night to reflect on his life and who he has become as a man (I was just too tired to blog last night at 11:00, but I whispered a prayer of thanks for him).

He was born in Lexington, KY in 1988 while we were youth pastor's at Hill N Dale Christian Church. He was born in the middle of the night (and we haven't slept a good night since) with a waiting room full of youth group kids. We named him after me, Michael Robert Baker II (we went with the second because we didn't want people calling him junior) and he was (and still is) my pride and joy. I was only 23 so i had no clue what I was doing or how to raise a kid, but Sara and I loved him and read the Bible to him and took him to church (he owned every boy thing from our local von maur like store because of the generous people in our church).

well, he's grown a little since then (not 6-4 like my youngest, but 6-1 which is tall for me) and yet we still call him Mikey. He is (depending on the day and viewpoint) stubborn or independent or a great leader. He is incredibly artistic (gift of God that he has always had - I have a painting of his from the third grade that is incredible). He is detailed. He used to line up his cheerios perfectly in a row on his high chair (anal some would say). He doesn't care what people think of him (this can be good and bad). He is willing to try things that others won't. He is smart. He is very articulate and expressive (one of the things he is like me in - along with lover of Frank Sinatra music, hats, frequent changer of hair styles, and bringing flowers to the girl in his life).

I'm proud of him. After the teen-age rebellion years (long story) he has grown into the kind of guy I enjoy hanging out with. What more could a father ask for? Happy 21 Mikey!

Monday, November 16, 2009

love and respect

I was super encouraged to find that so many Eastview couples heard my call to attend the Love and Respect conference in Peoria at Northwoods church Friday and Saturday. It was great to see you all there (I estimate over 100 from Eastview, but you can never trust a preacher's count:-) and great to have so many of our staff there (we took 15 staff and spouses to encourage strong Christian marriages). the traffic getting there the first night was bad and in my opinion the sessions were a bit long, but what Dr. Eggerichs (I think that's how you spell it - no matter) proposes is an awesome truth from God's Word.

The first part of this is that God "made them male and female". This is an astouding counter-cultural truth from God's word. The claim that we are not all alike, don't see things the same way and don't always agree! In a culture that (in the name of equality) is trying to tell us that men and women are all the same; this biblical truth stands - we aren't the same. Men and women see things differently, and are motivated differently, and speak differently.

He goes on to say that men are motivated by respect and that women are motivated by love. Now this seems very simplistic and I can't go into all of it here, but I'll tell you that I believe the good Dr. nailed Ephesians 5:22ff about Christian marriage. Men really need to be respected (and it's different than for women) and women really need to be loved (and it's different than for men). I can't go into detail in this blog, but here's my challenge (dare really - double dog dare ya): Men - go get a copy of "Love and Respect" (it's in our Harvest bookstore) and suggest to your wife that you read it together. Be a leader and do this. Men, pay attention to what this book says about how women respond. My wife and other women have told me that he pretty much is right on. Women - read this book with your husband - and pay attention to what it says about how men respond. Many men told me over the weekend that Dr. Eggerichs put into words what they've always felt, but could never express in words.

Finally, men (you can keep on reading if you're a woman, but this is for the guys) I'm renewed in my desire to be a real man that God can use. We have strength and courage and fight and leadership because God made us that way to lead in our homes and our church. May we not buy into a culture that tells us should become less aggressive and more sensitive - more like a woman. May we be strong like men (as the apostle says) and live out a life of truly loving our wives by being the strong Christian leaders He desires.

Two more things: 1. Yesterday's outpouring of toys for children in need this Christmas was over whelming. Way over last year's gifts. Don't forget to bring coats next week. 2. The baptism of an entire family yesterday in first service reminds me of the jailer and his family that were all baptized together in Acts 16. Jesus still changes lives.

Monday, November 9, 2009

as advertised

Well, as time in New York City was absolutely inspirational. Yes, my trip to NYC last week was a work trip! O.K. let me confess a couple of things: 1. I love the city-the bigger the better - don't know if it's just all the people or what, but I love it! 2. We took in a show (West Side Story) and some great restaurants, the metropolitan museum and times square (we were there for the last two innings on the big screen as the Yankees won the world series with thousands of crazy fans...very cool). 3. I love the men and their wives (all pastors of mega-churches) and share a deep and partnering friendship with them. All that to was a work trip that didn't seem a whole lot like work!

We went to meet some of the pastors behind the churches being planted in the Northeast and beyond by a church planting organization called the Orchard Group. Very well run ministry organization (God is doing some cool things in the city). I'm inspired. Maybe when God is through with me at this Eastview thing (Lord willing that will be another 15-20 years) then Sara and I will go the Big Apple and plant a church (did I tell you they have starbucks there?).

Sunday I continued in our series in Luke and as advertised the angelic appearance to Zecharias in the temple foretelling the birth of John the Baptist was inspiring. What wasn't advertised is that your sr. pastor on a self prescribed cocktail of some sinus medication, some congestion medication and four shots of espresso would be a little loopy! O.K. a lot. I have got some kind of cold thingy, but I'm feeling a little better today. I hate having a cold because I hug everybody and don't feel like I should when I'm sick (did anyway).

This Sunday is the big day when we begin bringing in our toys for kids in our town who won't have a Christmas any other way. I hope that as advertised (we are getting a reputation around Bloomington/Normal) our church excels in the grace of giving. It's just that, you know...a grace. Passing on joy to a child for free, undeserved, unable to repay - sounds familiar. Once God sent his Son to his children for free, undeserved, unable to repay - gift of grace. May our giving reflect that gift!

Here's my challenge: 1. Think of the amount of toys you are going to bring to church for donation this Sunday. 2. Pray about that and ask God if He wants you to give more. 3. Double the answer to number 1. 4. Do it by faith. 5. Smile because you have freely received and freely given. 6. Go have a gingerbread latte' (I allow myself this one sissy drink during the holidays each year!)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

east tennessee to NYC

Well, here i am sitting in a New York City hotel room getting ready to go to dinner in a few hours with a bunch of Sr. Pastors and their wives. Sara and I have spent much of the day travelling and wandering around Times Square. We are here to look at the church planting efforts of the Orchard Group and just talk ministry and be refreshed (and write a sermon and keep up with e-mails:-) I started Sunday's sermon today at 35,000 feet - closer to God, better studying :-)

But I wanted to reflect yesterday on my visit to East Tennessee and our campus visit for Caleb to register at Johnson Bible College. God willing he will be a student there next Fall (and God willing I can afford it:-) Anyway, very cool roaming around this scenic campus in the hills of the smokey mtns - the fall day was perfect - 65 degrees and sunshine and fall colors. Anyway, we spent time walking through the old part of the campus - the old main building that has stood since 1905! This is always such a blast from the past for me and Sara - such formative years in our lives. I learned to preach here, met my wife here and grew up in so many ways here!

Mom went with and every once in a while, I'd see a tear come to her see her and my father were newly weds here in the early 60's and she has nearly fifty years of memories that come flooding back. Beyond that, my great uncle Frank Baker (my grandpa's brother) was a student in the late forties and early fifties here. Lot's of tradition and preaching in my family of which I'm honored to be a part. It was a very relaxing and renewing time.

If Caleb is a student at Johnson, I hope to have several such trips over the next few years. My greatest tempation of the weekend was to stay and go the the Tennessee game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday (that would have put me back into Normal around 4:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning - not a good idea for any preacher), but wiser heads (Sara) prevailed!