Category Archives: Christian Maturity

Yes, I’m Still At It

“You Still Preaching?”

I don’t hear it too much anymore, but I used to hear it rather frequently. Family members, old friends, former acquaintances, and the average person I never wanted to see again would come up to me and ask, “Hey, you still preaching?”

Maybe it’s the thing to do. Maybe it is customary to ask a person if they are still doing what they were doing the last time you saw them. It makes sense. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of asking:

  • “Are you still unemployed?”
  • “You still sick with that sickness thing?”
  • “You still married?”
  • “You still running off at the mouth about things you know nothing about?”
  • “You still planning to party with Hitler for eternity?”
  • Are you still as stupid as you used to be?

I just don’t get why people ask if I am still preaching. It’s like they think I’ll change my mind or walk away from the ministry, or something.

Some Statistics

In reality, it’s not that unreasonable to ask someone who once accepted the call to ministry if he is still preaching. Even though it sorta feels like an insult, I shouldn’t be surprised by other people’s shock. I mean, it has been 34 years since I made my calling public. I’ve known more than one who has walked away the first year.

If more people knew the statistics, few would ever enter the ministry. Stop and think about it, would you enter a career with the highest rate of heart attacks? Would you take out student loans for a degree that demands you work multiple jobs? Consider these sad facts…

  • 70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only fifty percent still felt called.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 80% of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression.
  • 70% of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.

Still Preaching

Yet, I’m still preaching. It may surprise people who haven’t seen me in a while, but I’m still doing the Lord’s work and still following the call I first heard when I was 16. It may sound strange, but I can’t help it.

“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” – Jeremiah 20:9 NLT

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” – 1 Corinthians 9:16 KJV

photo (16)June 11 was the anniversary of my father’s death. He died the week before Father’s day (just like my wife’s father did last week). Not long ago I went to his grave and placed my Bible on his tombstone. There, glistening in the sun, were the gilded words “Rev. Anthony C. Baker.”

“Daddy,” I said, “I’m still at it.”

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Church, Life/Death, ministry, Preaching, Relationships and Family

In My Father’s Honor

Remembering the Day

I woke up this morning and saw the sun, which is something my dad never got the chance to experience on June 11, 1991. Upon closing his eyes in death while working the night shift as a security guard, he woke to eternal day where the Son is the Light. What an awesome moment that must have must have been for him!

However, for me, it was a very difficult day 27 years ago. For that matter, it was a difficult day for many. He was only 46 at the time of his homegoing, but the impact he made on the lives of others will reverberate for many decades to come, and all of us were heartbroken when he left.

Tough, Yet Humble

My dad.

My dad.

Those who knew my dad before he became a Christian would testify to the fact that he was no wimp. He was a man’s man.

My dad could build an engine and race a car – including the kind in which he used to haul moonshine. He knew how to fight, fish, and fire a weapon; between him and my uncle Don (his brother), there weren’t too many men willing to be their enemies.

Yet, once he accepted Christ, he became the perfect example of gentleness, kindness, grace, and compassion. I know of no one any more humble than he was. (Oh, and when his brother finally became a believer in Jesus, the same transformation took place)

Preachers

My dad was also a preacher. He might not have been the most eloquent, but he loved the Word and he loved telling people about Jesus. Had he been alive today, he would have wept at the state of our nation, but he would have cared more about sharing the gospel with the homeless drunk under the bridge, the prisoner in the jail, or the disabled and orphaned teen in need of hope.

More than a man who’d kindly give you the shirt off his back, he’d find a way to tell you about a Saviour who bore a cross on His. If my dad was still alive, he’d still be preaching.

Still Fighting the Good Fight

Still Fighting the Good Fight

I am proud to say that I am carrying on my father’s legacy. I am proud to say that should the Lord allow me to live another 50 years, I will continue to preach the Gospel, stand for Truth, and love people the best I can. As a matter of fact, here is something I recently posted on Facebook.

Backbone, preachers…now’s the time for some honest-to-goodness, strong-as-steel, George S. Patton and John Wayne-like BACKBONE!

I don’t care if you’re Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Methodist, or whatever…MAN UP!! Stand in the gap! Quit being a politically motivated, crowd-pleasing, purse string-tying wimp and PREACH THE WORD!

Check out what’s going on in the world and what’s coming to America. Do you think things are all going to turn out like a big Hillsong praise service if you keep preaching like Joel Osteen?! Folks, what we need now more than ever are some Elijahs, some John the Baptists, some old-school Billy Grahams, some D. L. Moodys, etc. We need more men of God who know the difference between the Word of God and a motivational speech!

Don’t try to be popular. Don’t try to be “cool” and “hip” with the younger generations. Quit fighting over the styles of worship if your congregation doesn’t even know HOW to worship! Forget trying to become more “seeker-friendly,” and just SEEK THE LOST! The world is going to Hell and we are greasing the skids.

Be real. Be humble. Be yourself. Love your enemies. But for the love of God, pastors and preachers, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). In other words, take off the liberal mom jeans and put on some prophet-worthy overalls and get to work. 

His Voice

I wish all of you could have met my dad, Terry L. Baker. Like my wife noted when she heard a recording, “He sounds about as country as they come.” Fortunately for all of us, I still have a few recordings of his preaching.

Below is an edited version of a message my dad preached back in 1981. At that time he was doing a radio program on WMOC for a local children’s ministry.

On a side note, I do a radio program just like my dad did, but he used to record his sermons on a Radio Shack cassette recorder while I use an iPhone 7 with a Rode smartLav+ mic. Funny, the sermon below sounds just as good as anything recorded today!

Fittingly, the sermon from my late father, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-7, concerns how to raise a godly family. Tell me if you think he sounds a little like me 😉

All honor and glory be to my Father in Heaven, the One who graciously gifted me with an earthly father who loved Jesus and taught me how to do the same.

 

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, Life Lessons, ministry, Parenting, Preaching, Relationships and Family

Barriers to Church Growth #7

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of them.

“People think of giving as being for their own honor.”

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” – Matthew 6:2-4 KJV

I don’t have a problem with buildings, wings of buildings, rooms, sanctuaries, pews, or stained-glass windows being named in honor of people. It’s when those people give money in order have their names put on those things.

One of the most commonly used complaints against the church is, “They only want your money.” Just throw a rock into any crowd and the chances are high that you’ll hit a disgruntled, self-proclaimed atheist who thinks that way.

But even though most churches aren’t all about money (if they were, then why are so many struggling with tight budgets?), there are some folk within the church that like others to know how much money they have. These are the ones who pay the bills, and everybody knows it.

Jesus spoke of those who give just to be seen. I know people like that. They don’t give anonymously, heaven forbid. No, they hold a new conference and write an over-sized, four-foot-long check to the church, while posing for the camera.

These are the people who think they have more say-so in the congregation of believers. They think they have earned the right. Some even give in order to purchase titles, such as “prophet.” What’s worse, that very practice is applauded within a particular denomination. How sad.

What we need are more people who are willing to give because they love the Lord, not praise. I love the scene in Facing the Giants where a wealthy man gives the coach a new truck. Then he looks over at his son and says something like, “Don’t you say a word.” Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!

God gives to us so that we can give to Him. When it is money that we give, it is to be for His glory, not ours. So, if you want recognition, why not wait a little while for the kind that will come from your Heavenly Father?

The praise of men is worthless, if not simply envy in disguise. 

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Filed under Christian Living, Christian Maturity, General Observations, Uncategorized

Barriers to Church Growth, #6 (Selfish Prayer)

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss several of these.

People think of prayer as being for themselves (Matt. 6:5).

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” – Matthew 6:5

Recently I preached from Romans 12:1-3 and verse 12. There is a great need for prayer that is not self-centered, but sacrificial and “other” focused.

The Hypocrite Prayer

It should always be considered a great honor to be called upon to lead a congregational prayer. When this happens, what is not needed is a long, drawn-out speech meant to make everyone else think the one praying is practicing for an oral theological exam. However, there are those who use this opportunity to do almost that.

How many times have you been in a church service when some “godly” gentleman was asked to give the closing prayer, the result being you fell asleep and hit your head on the pew in front of you? Many times the reason for a prayer like that is simply to make the one praying sound righteous. Is that not what the Pharisee did (Luke 18:11)? His intent was to be heard of men, not God.

On the other hand, if the intent is for God to hear, do we think He is going to be impressed with our seminary-level language? More often than not, when somebody goes on and on in a public prayer, God is no more impressed than the people in the audience…nobody is fooled. Fancy words can never hide a faulty character.

The Selfish Prayer

What I believe is more dangerous than the hypocritical prayer is the prayer that focuses only on one’s personal needs, not the needs of others. The reason these prayers are dangerous is that they cause us to be narrow-minded and self-centered. They are the opposite of sacrificial prayer.

Does anyone seriously think that Christians pray as much as they should? And when we do pray, how often do you think we pray for the needs of our neighbors, our friends, or even our enemies before we “name-and-claim” our own desires? My friends, this is a barrier to church growth. The lack of prayer is far more deadly to the church than the few who “stand in the corner of the streets” to be heard.

Sacrificial Prayer

In the first verse of Romans 12 the Apostle Paul begs us to “present [our] bodies” as living sacrifices. “Living sacrifices” don’t care about self, only the glory of the One to whom the sacrifice is made. And when we are transformed by “the renewing of [our] minds,” we have the mind of One who would lay down His own life for the sake of others.

When we look further down into this chapter it becomes obvious that we not to think of ourselves as better than others, but to minister to their needs as our own. With that in mind, when we come to verse 12, what kind of prayer should we be continuing in?

When we become more like Christ, our prayers become more like His. We don’t know every prayer Jesus prayed, but of the ones we have a record of, how many included requests for better jobs, a better car, a nicer home, better health, etc? More often than not, He prayed for the Church, for unity, for His Father to receive glory, for His Father’s will to be done.

How awesome it would be if we all spent more time on our knees in prayer? How powerful would it be if we sacrificed our time in prayer for self and focused on others within the body? What would happen if we would just spend time praying, not just for our own congregations, but for the Church, the body of Christ?

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Filed under book review, Christian Living, Christian Maturity

A Sermon On Legalism

You can go to other posts I’ve written and read why some people choose to be legalists. This, however, is a message I preached this past Sunday morning.

Maybe some of you will find it encouraging or helpful.

Click here to listen to “Romans 14: A Sermon On Legalism”

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Filed under Christian Maturity, Church, legalism, Preaching

Barriers to Church Growth #4 (Hold to God)

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of them.

“People are unwilling to take hold of God (Isaiah 64:7).”

“And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.” – Isaiah 64:7 KJV

Every time we heard a gospel song that had words similar to “hold on to God,” or “hold to His hand,” my parents quickly reminded us that “we don’t hold God’s hand – He holds ours.” Understandably, what my parents were referring to was salvation. In that sense, we are held and He will never let go.

But that is not what this verse is talking about. Isaiah is saying that part of the problem his people were facing was the fact that none had the desire, nor even the desire to have a desire, to grab hold of God. If that is true today, then it may not only be a huge barrier to church growth, but to individual growth as well.

Take Hold of Thee

It is interesting and revealing when we look at this phrase and compare its usage to other places in Scripture. To begin with, the word chazaq (Strong’s H2388) essentially means “to tie fast, to bind bonds strongly” (Gesenius’s Lexicon). It is a verb that is translated into English as words such as strong, retain, urgent, and caught. Here are just a few examples.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught[2388] it, and it became a rod in his hand:” – Exodus 4:4

“And the Egyptians were urgent[2388] upon the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste ; for they said , We be all dead men.” – Exodus 12:33

“Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain[2388] thine integrity? curse God, and die .” – Job 2:9

Moses “caught.” Look at the first verse. Moses had been commanded by God to throw down his rod, after which it became a serpent. Then, against all logic, God told him to pick it up again, but this time by the tail (riiiiigghht!). I would have had to be seriously “stirred up” to pick up a deadly snake by the tail – it BITES! Yet, that’s what Moses did. He “caught it” by the tail.

The Egyptians were “urgent.” Next, after suffering under all the plagues, the Egyptians “were urgent” in there pushing the Israelites out of town. They had come to realize that their own lives were in jeopardy if the Jews stayed one day longer. It was imperative that they are pushed out as quickly as possible.

Job “still retained.” Now, look at poor Job. He had lost everything dear to him, including his health, and then came his wife telling him to curse God and die. She couldn’t believe that he could just sit there and hold on to his belief that God was worth serving. “After all this, are you still holding on to your integrity? What for? What’s the use? Quit putting yourself through this nonsense and just curse God and die!” Yet, he held on.

Making it Apply

When we view Isaiah 64:7 in the light of the verses above, what we have is astounding and convicting. Let’s see if we can work it all together:

1) Taking hold of God is something that we should take seriously, not flippantly. Don’t reach out for Him in a way that implies half-heartedness. Take hold like you mean it! Who do we think God is, a stick to be used by us in our own power to accomplish our own desires? NO! He is alive and dangerous. As Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, He is NOT tame. He is not here to be played with.

2) Do we not understand that without the power and presence of God we will die?In Him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). There should be an urgency in our desire for Him, no less than the kind the Egyptians had to expel the Jews from their land. Do we want to live? We must urgently “take hold.”

3) We must hold on to God even when it seems insane to others. We must consider our relationship with our Heavenly Father so precious that even when Hell seems to be winning, faith tells us otherwise. Like Job of old, we should hold on to God even when we lie broken and wasted amid the ashes of seeming defeat. Our Redeemer LIVES!

The Barrier that Must Fall

If we are to see growth in our churches, not to mention our own lives, we must seek after God with urgency, intensity, and passion. He must be sought after and adhered to like no other treasure on earth. Anything less betrays our divided, adulterous hearts. God will bless and grow a people who “take hold.” No church will grow who only takes hold of God when it is convenient, fun, or fashionable.

Time is filled with swift transition
Not of earth or moon can stand
Build your hope on things eternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand

Trust in Him who will not leave you
Whatsoever years may bring
When my earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling

Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Build your hope on things eternal
Hold to God’s unchanging hand
Hold to God’s unchanging hand

We must cleave to Him. It IS a matter of life or death.

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Filed under book review, Christian Maturity, God, Uncategorized, worship

Barriers to Church Growth #3

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a few of them.

“God withdraws Himself from the church because of sin. He hardens hearts and gives the people over to sin (Isa. 63: 15-19; Heb. 3:12-13).”

“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” – Hebrews 3:12-13 KJV

Have you ever thought it possible for a church to be given over to sin? I am not talking about the “liberal” church down the street (every town has one, I suppose), but your church – my church. Is there no growth taking place? Maybe it is because of sin. Maybe it’s because of a hardened heart.

Do churches sin?

You know they do. Many times, however, the sin is not viewed as such. It is seen differently from something that smacks of unbelief. It is rarely seen as a departure from God. More often than not, the sin that churches commit is hidden or disguised with terms or labels meant to justify “an evil heart of unbelief.” Here are a few phrases you may have heard. If so, it might be time for a hard-heart check.

  • “We can’t do that.”
  • “We don’t have the funds for that.
  • “That area of town will never be receptive.”
  • “Maybe we should just pray about it, for now.”
  • “Why do we need to change? They need to change!”
  • “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Can churches have their hearts softened?

Absolutely! God is in the forgiving business, you know. All it would take is our churches turning away from the sins that so easily beset us, like legalism, traditionalism, racism, envy, and pride…not to mention the fear that God will not provide for us the ability and means to accomplish His work.

“Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.” – Lamentations 3:40

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7

It is time for us to repent.

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