The Legacy of Pastor Steve Baxter

A week ago today I went to a funeral for my pastor and friend: Steve Baxter.

steve-baxterLike many others who knew Steve, I’m still feeling a sense of grief and disbelief. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. On Labour Day Sunday, Steve was at church, greeting each person going out the door. Warm handshake. Wide smile. Personal touch. Vintage pastor Steve. On Labour Day Monday he went to the hospital with a crushing headache. He slipped into a coma and never recovered.

Linda and I so appreciated Steve as our pastor. When I taught a course at Heritage on the Pastoral Epistles, I had him come speak to the class. I wanted students to hear from a man who exemplified what it means to be a godly and good pastor. I was hoping he would rub off on them.

In that Pastoral Epistles class, I sketched a “portrait of an effective pastor”. The drawing is certainly no masterpiece, but it highlights pieces pastors should seek to master. The portrait I drew gives a picture of the kind of person and pastor Steve Baxter was.

IMG_0122Spiritual Vitality: Steve ministered out of the overflow of his own relationship with Christ Jesus.
Godly Character: The tributes at his memorial service repeatedly spoke of his consistent, Christ-like character.
Shepherd: Steve had an amazing shepherd’s heart for the people he served. I’ve rarely met a pastor who connected with so many people in a personal way.
Preacher/Teacher: Each Sunday we could count on hearing a solid message from God’s Word—true to the text and applied to our lives.
Leader: Steve was a wise leader who gently but relentlessly helped the congregation align with God’s agenda. He also took the lead in mentoring younger ministers.
Vision for the Mission: Steve never forgot that Christ wants His church to be on mission, bringing the gospel to those who are outside the church walls.

Tomorrow I head back to Heritage with a mixture of feelings. Sadness—we have lost a stellar pastoral leader. Joy—Steve will receive a “well done” commendation from the Lord. Urgency—there is a pressing need to train spiritual leaders to carry on the work.

Please join me in praying for Steve’s family (wife Pam, daughters Erin and Heather) and Steve’s congregation (Grandview Baptist in Kitchener). Also pray for me and the team at Heritage as we seek to prepare more godly and good pastoral leaders.  We could use more pastors like Steve Baxter.

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Prayer Update September 23, 2016

chapelWe are off to a great start this semester at Heritage. From what I am seeing in classrooms and on campus, I sense the Lord has given us a keen group of new students.  We also have a stellar group of student leaders.

Here are this week’s prayer requests and a personal note of praise.

  1. This past week we’ve had special chapel services as part of our Spiritual Emphasis Week. Pastor Dwayne Cline, from Hughson Street Baptist Church in Hamilton, challenged our students to let the gospel of Christ shape their daily lives. Pray for the ongoing impact of his messages on our students, staff and faculty.
  1. This weekend, Linda teams up with Dr. Margaret Kostenberger to teach a course at Heritage. The class will examine biblical passages related to women serving in ministry. This course is part of the five-course Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry. Please pray for Margaret and Linda as they teach and for the students as they learn.
  2.  Yesterday I (Rick) received good news from my latest round of blood tests. My PSA levels are still undetectable which means the Lord has allowed me to be cancer free for five years now. We’re giving Him our sincere thanks for this gift of health

Thank you so much for being part of our extended prayer team.  The spiritual impact we long to see in students’ lives will only happen as God does His amazing work.  And God loves to work in response to our prayers!


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Leadership Lessons from Less-Known Parts of the Bible (Joshua 16-17)

Joshua 16 and 17 form one literary unit dealing with the allotment of land to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh—the two sons of Joseph. In the midst of the details about territorial boundaries, these chapters contain fascinating lessons for all of us involved in leading God’s people.

God views men and women as equals when it comes to inheritance.

The five daughters of Zelophehad approach Joshua to remind him of Moses’ promise to give them the land promised to their father (17:3). Normally, land inheritance in Israel was given to sons, but Zelophehad’s children were all girls. So Joshua ensures they receive a tract of land. Here we are reminded of an important biblical truth: God sees men and women of value and worth. This is why Paul calls all Christians (men and women) “sons of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26) and “heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). While we learn from other Scriptures that there are differences in the roles and responsibilities given to men and women, we equally inherit the gift of salvation through faith in Christ.

Without a robust faith, wide opportunities seem narrow and obstacles seem insurmountable.

obstackesThe people of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) are given much more land than most tribes (excepting Judah). However, they argue their allotment was “not enough” (17:16). They want more land. Actually, they want “easier” land. As Joshua points out, they have ample land—it just needs to be cleared of trees (on Mt. Ephraim) or Canaanites (on the plains). The real problem wasn’t lack of land, but lack of vision, faith and determination. That’s still the case today; without a robust faith in God, we see only obstacles where there are ample opportunities.

Ideally, boundaries are clear and clean; reality can be messier.

I find it interesting and puzzling that some tribes were given cities located within the boundaries of another tribe. For example, Ephraim had some towns within Manasseh (17:9) and Manasseh had towns within Issachar and Asher (17:11). Why this happened, we aren’t told. However, it’s safe to assume there was some reason that made sense at the time. As leaders, we need to remember that our ministries won’t always be perfectly tidy organizations. Reality is messier than we like to admit.

Leaders don’t let complainers off the hook.

no-whiningThe people of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) weren’t happy with their assigned inheritance. They thought it too small and confining in light of their size (17:14). Joshua would have none of it. Instead of giving them more land, he challenges them to use more of the land they were given. They needed to follow the example of Caleb, who specifically requested a difficult area but believed that, with the Lord’s help, he could clear it. Those of us in leadership need to follow Joshua’s example and call those we lead to step into challenges with faith, not shrink from challenges in fear.


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Prayer Update September 16, 2016

prayer-meetingLast Sunday night many of our students joined with folks from two local churches to hold an outdoor prayer service in Forbes Park in the village of Hespeler. Heritage is part of an initiative called “Love Hespeler”.  Our desire is to bring the love and light of Christ to the people living in Hespeler.  This prayer gathering was a great way to start of our school year.


convocationOn Tuesday we had a wonderful Convocation service to dedicate the year to the Lord. Pastor Norm Millar challenged our students, staff, and faculty to remain “people of the Book” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). We a committed to being a school that builds all our education and training on God’s Word.


Here are some prayer requests for this week:

  1. New students are beginning to settle into the residence halls and their classes. Pray for their adjustment to the joys and rigours of life at Heritage. Ask God to make this a wonderful time of spiritual, academic and relational growth.
  1. Linda is preparing to co-teach a course with Dr. Margaret Kostenberger. The class runs next Friday and Saturday and is part of the Heritage Centre for Women in Ministry. Pray for Linda and Margaret as they prepare.
  1. This week, we were deeply saddened by the sudden death of our friend, Steve Baxter. Steve was a godly man and fantastic shepherd who pastored the church we attend (Grandview Baptist in Kitchener). Please pray for Steve’s family and the church family. We grieve, but with grieve with hope (1 Thess4:13), as we know Steve is with His Lord.



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Leadership Lessons from the Less-Known Parts of the Bible (Joshua 15)


Joshua 15 details the boundaries of the territory given to the tribe of Judah. After mapping out the borders, Joshua lists the cities included in Judah’s allotment. In the middle of the chapter, we read the fascinating account of Caleb’s exploits in driving out the remaining Anakites from Hebron (15:14) and the offer of his daughter’s hand in marriage to the man who successfully “attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher” (16). Caleb’s nephew, Othniel, takes up the challenge and is rewarded with the privilege of marrying Caleb’s daughter Acsah (15:17).

Here are some of the leadership lessons from this lesser known part of Scripture:

God doesn’t give equal allotments to His people.


Judah’s land is the portion in mustard yellow

Judah is given a massive amount of land, far bigger than other tribes (except Manasseh).  Most tribes received much smaller tracts of property. God sovereignly decides what “allotments” His people receive. This same lesson comes out in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) and in Paul’s teaching regarding spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12).

God gives an inheritance that requires faith-filled effort to possess.

If Caleb’s experience is the norm (15:13-17), the land given to clans still had to be possessed through battle. Caleb drove out three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai—to possess Hebron. A similar battle occurred to possess Debir. Caleb accomplished this with God’s help (“the Lord helping me I will drive them out—14:12) and the help of others (Othniel—15:17). Later in the chapter we read that the people of Judah “could not dislodge the Jebuisites who were living in Jerusalem” (15:63); this part of their inheritance remained untamed and unclaimed. God still gives ministry opportunities that require faith-filled effort from us.

God wants us to repurpose places that were once a “valley of trouble.”

Judah’s inheritance included the Valley of Achor (15:7). This was the place where Achan and his family were stoned to death (see Joshua 7:24-26). Although the Valley of Achor was a place with bad memories for the people of Israel, it was included in the land allotted to the clans of Judah. God expected this valley of trouble to be repurposed and used for good. God still has his people reclaim places that have had a history of trouble and pain—churches, neighbourhoods, and cities.

Leaders want other leaders on their team.

actionCaleb offers the hand of his daughter Acsah in marriage to the man who “attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher” (15:16). He essentially gives a test to weed out all but the best. The man who would be allowed to marry his daughter had to do two things: attack and capture a city near Hebron.   Caleb wanted a man of action (one who goes on the attack) and accomplishment (one who successfully captures). Othniel passed the test and received Acsah as his wife. Later, Othniel would become one of the judges who delivered Israel from foreign powers (Judges 3:7-11). The lesson for us: wise leaders look for men and women of action and accomplishment to add to their team.


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Prayer Update September 9, 2016

welcomeOn Labour Day, new college students moved into the residence halls. We had wonderful day—beautiful weather, helpful student leaders (who unload cars) and a very meaningful dedication service for students and their families. (Check out the pictures at the Heritage Facebook Page)

Here are this week’s prayer requests:

  1. Ask the Lord to help the new college students adjust quickly and well to life at Heritage: new friends, new roommates, new classes.   Pray for a good start to the school year for each of our new college and seminary students.
  1. Classes launch this coming Monday. Pray for our faculty as they get ready for the semester. Ask the Lord to make the classes transformational, not simply informational. Our mission is to “equip students for life and ministry in the Church and the world.”
  1. This Sunday, I (Rick) am speaking twice at Wallenstein Bible Chapel for their Regenerate Conference. Pray that my messages from Hebrews 11 and 12 would be used by God in many lives.
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Leadership Lessons from the Less-Known Parts of the Bible (Joshua 14)

joshuaIf you are like many Christians, you are somewhat familiar with the front half of the book of Joshua. It’s the action-filled part. Where Joshua leads the nation of Israel to possess the Promised Land. The front half of Joshua is filled with well-known historical accounts: Rahab and the red chord, the crossing of the Jordan, the walls of Jericho coming down.

But the back half of Joshua (chapters 14-24) is a road less traveled. It’s not nearly as action-packed. In fact, most of it describes the distribution of the land to the Israelite tribes. There’s a lot of details about boundary lines—important for the Israelites but not overly scintillating to us.

Still, embedded in the discussion about the land assignments (chapters 14-20) are some incredible leadership lessons. For the next few weeks, I plan to highlight some of these lessons—one chapter at a time. These chapters (and leadership lessons) have been instructive and inspirational for me; I trust they will be for you as well.

lessons-learnedSummary of chapter 14: Before Joshua gets down to dividing the land west of the Jordan river among the remaining Israelite tribes, he has a fascinating conversation with Caleb. You might remember that Joshua and Caleb were the only ones of the twelve spies sent out by Moses who came back with a faith-filled report (see Numbers 13). Here in chapter 14, Joshua blesses Caleb for his faithfulness to God and grants his request for a section of the Promised Land. (If you take the time to read Joshua 14, you’ll get more out of the Leadership Lessons below!)

 Leadership is first followership.

Three times in chapter 14, we are told Caleb followed the Lord “wholeheartedly” (8, 9, 14). The Hebrew text says he was “fully behind YHWY, the God of Israel” (14). Here is a reminder that stellar, spiritual leaders (like Caleb) lead by following (being fully behind) the Lord. Leaders who aren’t first followers aren’t worth following.

The heart of a leader shapes the heart of his or her leadership.

After exploring the land, Caleb brought back a report to Joshua and the nation “according to [his] convictions” (7). Literally, the text reads, “from my heart.” Caleb’s heart was devoted to following the Lord fully so the report he brought to Joshua was “from his heart.” The condition of our hearts will greatly affect the caliber of our leadership.

Leaders who lack faith in God’s promises cause spiritual meltdowns in others.

In verse 8, Caleb says his brothers (the other 10 Israelite spies) “made the hearts of the people melt with fear.” Literally, the text reads, “caused the hearts of the people to melt”. Most English translations add “with fear” to clarify that this was a faith meltdown. These ten spies, all respected tribal leaders, had a strong impact on the people they represented. Their lack of faith caused panic, with tragic results. Here is a sobering warning for all of us in leadership roles: our lack of faith in God can cause faith meltdowns in those we lead.

Faithful leadership doesn’t always translate into faith-filled people.

Caleb (and Joshua) followed after the Lord fully. But the nation sided with the majority report and melted in fear. Leaders can do their part faithfully, but unless people respond with faith the results can still be disobedience.

A leader’s hope for victory is found in God’s promise and presence.

Caleb asks for the hill country, a region that had been inhabited by the fearsome Anakites. While Israel had defeated the Anakites in battle (11:21), pockets remained to be driven out. Verse 12 reveals that Caleb’s hope for success was based on God’s presence (“the Lord helping me”) and His promise (“just as he said”). Caleb is not presumptuous or triumphalistic; however, he is hopeful of the Lord’s help based on the Lord’s Word. Those of us called to lead God’s people need that same kind of hope in God’s presence and promise.

Which of these lessons do you need to focus on this week? Next week, we’ll look at chapter 15.

For a wonderful, visual overview of the book of Joshua, check out this link:  


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