Category Archives: Life/Death

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

My Thoughts On the Suicide of Anthony Bourdain

I’m not going to try to be fancy with this post, so I’m not going to worry about font size, layout, pictures, links, etc. All I’m going to do is sit here at the keyboard and write.

Read it if you want to, but nobody’s forcing you. What I’m about to write may offend …no, it WILL offend some people… so consider this a warning. Go click on CNN’s coverage of all this if you want to feel all warm and fuzzy.

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Just the other day I heard of Kate Spade’s suicide by hanging. Then, a little while ago, the notification popped up on my phone telling me Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. All I could do was shake my head.

I’m still shaking my head.

I just came from the funeral of my father-in-law. It was not the most pleasant of experiences, as most funerals are not. His death was not a result of suicide, however, and yet it was still a source of grief for his family.

But those who commit suicide seem to not care too much about what happens in the hours after the body is found. They rarely seem to care what happens to the family in the next 12 hours, 2 days, or the rest of their lives. I tend to wonder how many family funerals those who commit suicide have ever attended.

I wonder how many have heard a mother, spouse, or especially a child cry out over the casket, “Why did you leave me?” And to think, it WAS a choice.

Like was said in a post I reblogged just a few moments ago, there is nothing brave about suicide. I used to think that the only reason I could not actually find the courage to pull the trigger to blow the top of my own head off was that I was a coward, which only added to the self-pity and lies that I was worthless. But it wasn’t cowardice that kept me alive; it was the innate sense of intrinsic human value that crept up from my sub-conscience  and screamed, “I want to live!” It was also a still, small Voice that whispered into my ear, “I still love you, no matter how much you want to hate me.”

I read that suicide rates have gone up 25% in general, and 30% in some states. It’s sorta becoming the “hip” way to die. But why? What are the reasons for wanting to kill one’s self?

I’ll list for you some reasons why at one point I thought I wanted to die: anger, disappointment, revenge, weariness, hopelessness, shame, worthlessness, and a general sense of bruised pride. I wonder how many of those Anthony Bourdain felt were legitimate?

A few weeks ago I went to the house of a man who committed suicide and sat with the wife and daughter in the driveway as the police did their job securing the scene. The best I could tell, the gentleman was tired of being a burden on his family, so he shot himself in the head and left his wife to live with the burden of being a widow.

Was Anthony Bourdain tired of being a burden to someone?

I don’t know Anthony Bourdain, and I only watched a few episodes of his television program. I literally know less about him than I know how many slices of cheese are in the refrigerator. I have no idea why Anthony Bourdain committed suicide.

What I do know with certainty is that it didn’t have to happen. What I do know for certain is that it wasn’t the best option, nor was it brave, nor was it loving – not unless there were terrorists demanding he choose between his life or another.

Honestly, we’ve got to quit being so passive and coddling with the eulogies of those who off themselves. I would bet a dollar to a gold-plated donut that at Anthony Bourdain’s funeral no one will stand up and tell the A-list crowd attending, “Anthony acted like a damn fool when he did this, and now he’s added his name to the long list of cowardly fathers who abandoned their children to deal with a pain they’ll never outlive.”

No, just like so many other funerals I’ve attended, barely anything will be said to shock the crowd into cold, hard reality. All that will be said about suicide is something akin to: “What a tragedy. If you feel like you might want to hurt yourself, find someone to talk to.”

You know what needs to be done at every funeral or memorial service (especially those held on college campuses when a college student kills him/herself)? Show pictures of the crime scene! Show the horror!

Despite what some people think, there’s nothing glamorous about suicide.

Have you ever set foot in a room where someone has put a bullet through his head? I have. It’s nothing like what you see in the movies.

Have you ever heard the sound of real people screaming and crying while looking at blood-splattered walls and ceiling light fixtures broken by skull fragments? I have. Actors can’t make it sound that real. It will wound your soul.

Yet, so many will go on and kill themselves – by whatever means – thinking that it’s the best or only option. Some will do it to make a point by trying to hurt others. Some will do it in a moment of sadness and grief while thinking there’s no use in going on. And most will do it never having been exposed to or having been made to consider the true aftermath.

But before I close this long rant, I’ve got to end it with some hope.

Let me remind you of those reasons I listed earlier: anger, disappointment, revenge, weariness, hopelessness, shame, worthlessness, and a general sense of bruised pride. THIS is why I preach the Cross. THIS is why I preach Christ crucified and risen.

One of the songs played at the funeral today has a chorus that goes like this:

“And the old rugged cross made the difference/ in a life bound for heartache and defeat./ I will praise Him forever and ever,/ for the cross made the difference for me.” – Gaither Vocal Band

Angry? Go to the cross. Disappointed? Go to the cross. Weary and hopeless? Run to the cross. Full of shame and reproach? Fall at the foot of the cross! Got a problem with your pride being wounded or offended? Focus your eyes on the cross!

You want answers for how to deal with suicide? Go to the cross of Jesus Christ where the Savior of the world was slain – so you and I could have life, and have it more abundantly.

Satan is the enemy of the soul, and any thought of suicide is a suggestion straight from the pits of hell – and if you sniff you might just smell the smoke.

I don’t know why Anthony Bourdain committed suicide, but I’d have a hard time believing he did it while thinking about how valuable he was to his Creator. I’d venture to guess that traveling the world and seeing so many things did nothing but expand the void in his soul and compound the questions for which he had no answer.

Jesus asked, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” ( Mark 8:36)

I thank God I’m alive. I thank God I have a Hope. I thank God for purpose. I thank God I’m loved. When He wants me to leave this world, He’ll take me. Until then I will live my life for the One who gave His life for me.

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Filed under current events, Depression, Life/Death, Struggles and Trials

Have You Done a Self-Examination?

A Doctor’s Instructions

I don’t want to get too TMI-ish, but as we get older the doctors say we should do more self-examinations. Have you ever been told this?

Doctor visits can be depressing 😉

You ladies are regularly told by your physicians to check for unusual or suspicious lumps in certain places. We men are told the same thing, just not as often (it’s not a subject we’re comfortable with).

But despite the awkwardness, all of us need to be reminded that it’s our responsibility to examine ourselves in between doctor visits. Fact is, embarrassing as it may be to discuss, a self-examination can mean the difference between life and death.

An Apostle’s Instructions

But as awkward as it is to discuss our bodies, the spiritual lives of people tend to be much more private and less likely to be examined. Yet, what does the Apostle Paul (a true Doctor of the Faith) recommend?

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? – 2 Corinthians 13:5 (KJV)

Or, as another translation interprets it…

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. (NLT)

Believe it or not, there are many, many people who think they are in perfect spiritual health, but in reality, they are terminal. Consider the following examples.

  • Bob goes to church every day the doors are open, including cleaning day.
  • Henry gives 20% of his income and 10% of his time to the church. If there’s a need, ask Henry.
  • Margaret goes to a fundamental church, uses the “right” translation of the Bible, and never wears anything but a long dress (except when she wears culottes to the beach).
  • Mary would never say a dirty word, tell an off-color joke, or even permit foul language in her presence.
  • Sharon put aside marriage and gave her life to helping orphans in the streets of Mumbai.
  • Frank and Karen have Bible studies in their home, take the kids to Sunday School, have gold crosses in every room, not to mention on their necks.
  • A rich young ruler has kept ALL the commandments (not just the big 10), even since he was a boy.

Are you like Bob or Mary? What about Sharon or Frank and Karen? Are the above people spiritually healthy, or could there be hidden cancer not yet removed?

Remember Ephesians 2:8-9? Works don’t save people; faith in Christ does. It’s not about the life you live; it’s Who’s life is in you.

My Advice

Look, I’m not an M.D. or an apostle, but if you’d like my advice, here’s what I have to offer.

  • Listen to your doctor and do what you need to – check for those lumps and things. Your life could depend on it.
  • Listen to the words of Paul and do a spiritual self-examination. Is your faith genuine?
  • Go to the top of this blog and click on the “Eternal Life” tab and consider what is written.

Don’t neglect the health of your body… or your soul.

 

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Filed under Christianity, fitness, Life/Death, salvation

HELL…It’s Not Just a Curse Word

Believe me, it’s not an easy subject to discuss, even though millions of people every day use it as a curse word. However, if Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven, don’t you think we should, too?

Some people accuse us preachers of making this stuff up in order to scare people. Others, like Bertrand Russell, reject Christianity because of Christ’s teaching on the subject. Nevertheless, it’s clearly biblical, and it’s clearly horrible, so how can we say we love people if we don’t warn them?

If you can spare the time, I invite you to listen to the sermon I preached this past Sunday morning. Should you become concerned about the fate of your soul, I would encourage you to go to the “Eternal Life” page on this blog for further information.

If you find the attached sermon helpful, please share it with someone who needs to hear.

Click on the picture for link to the audio.

 

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Filed under Bible Study, Life/Death, Preaching

In Response to Another School Shooting

Our hearts break when we think of the students and parents and staff, but now that the dust is settling, and the political forces have already spoken out, I’d like to say something about the most recent school shooting.

It’s not a gun problem; it’s a heart problem.

I’ve heard all the gun control arguments, but regardless the Constitution or the right to defend oneself, the root of the problem is what should be addressed. The question should be “why?”, not “how?”

Why did this teenager want to kill his fellow students? Why did the other murderers, maniacs, and monsters want to kill people? We’ve had guns in this country long before Columbine. Heck, we used to have shooting clubs in the schools! But what changed in society? What changed in the heart of our culture?

You can take away all the guns, but you’ll still have a disease that’s going to find a way to steal, kill, and destroy. No law, no matter how strict, is going to turn a lawbreaker into a law-abiding citizen.

Until you address the heart and soul issues, your only solution will end up being totalitarian control.

When the law of God is written on the hearts of men, there’s no need for external restraints; the constraints are internal. But when the only law written on the heart is the law of Self, there’s no restraint sufficient to make a man love his neighbor.

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Filed under America, community, current events, General Observations, legalism, Life/Death, politics, Struggles and Trials

The Depth and Breadth of Suicide

I’ve written about depression and suicide in the past, as many of you know. I’ve written based on personal experience with depression and brushes with suicidal thoughts. Hopefully, some of what I’ve written in the past has made an impact and caused you to think about the issue a little more deeply.

But for what it’s worth, my experience is shallow compared to the depth of pain and sorrow an actual suicide can bring. And when you come face-to-face with what suicide can do to those who are left behind, there’s no plumb to measure how deep the wounds will go.

This morning one of my daughters (Katie) called me on the phone, hardly understandable for the convulsive weeping. A young man with whom she went to college, a young man whom she considered to be a best friend, took his own life last night, and Katie had just received the news as she was driving to work.

The question kept repeating from her lips…”Why?”

Christopher Nitzband (photo by Katie Baker)

There were no discernible warning signs. He was loved by all. I even enjoyed talking with him over lunch last week. He was about to graduate college and had already been accepted to the graduate program at George Mason University. He had everything to live for, yet he chose not to.

Why? Indeed.

The wounds will go deep, and the pain will sink deep into the crevices of many hearts. And the many? How will we know? Already there are hundreds weeping. What other ripple effects will there be from a severed relationship and a wasted life?

I want to leave you with the words from my daughter’s Instagram post. She says it better than me.

“…It’s hard to believe I won’t see him walking around campus anymore. No more walks. No more talks. No more random trips off campus. The horizon of possibilities is gone.

I’ll see you later, bud.”

The “horizon of possibilities is gone.” That’s a wide, wide loss.

My daughter’s updated Facebook cover photo.

I’m sorry for your loss, dear Katie. I’m truly sorry.

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Filed under Depression, Life/Death, Struggles and Trials

Body Exhibit One

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We couldn’t take pictures inside the exhibition.

This morning we Honda’d down to Atlanta to visit the “Bodies” exhibit, a display of actual human bodies in various states of dissection. Yes, we saw dead people.

It wasn’t exactly Christmas, but our trip was a gift to the family by our middle daughter, Katie. She was so excited. It was something she’d first heard about when in Germany last year, and couldn’t wait to see.

So, what was it like? Well, it wasn’t as disturbing as I thought it would be, but it was a little. Honestly, it was hard to convince myself that what I was observing was actual human remains, not props from a horror movie. I had expected to see plain human cadavers, I guess; what I saw, instead, were skinned bodies, sliced bodies, and parts of bodies I still have no idea how they extracted. I guess my sensibilities weren’t prepared to offer an adequate response.

Everything in the exhibit was real, all except for the eyes (except for one man who was reading – his eyes were real).

Imagine a whole human body sliced from head to toe as if put headfirst into a roast beef slicer… yeah. Horror movie stuff, right?

But what I saw was incredibly impressive. I was able to see actual tendons, muscles, organs, bone – you name it – up close and in context. And most impressive was a whole body gone – except for blood vessels! Seriously! They had different glass cases with various limbs and organs on display, but they actually had one case with nothing but the entire blood vessel system of one male human! Looked like a human-shaped red brillo pad (or steel wool). How did they do that???

Oh, my daughters just informed me how they did that. They took bodies and replaced their blood with a polymer hardening agent died red. Next, they placed the bodies in a solution that completely dissolved the human remains, leaving nothing but the polymer in the shape of the entire blood vessel system. No, there’s nothing sick about that, is there?

And, then, what was the biggest question of the day? My daughters, my mother (who spent 46 years in the blood and pathology fields), and I all asked, “How could all of this complexity been an accident?”

The antagonist-type of atheists who have tried to argue with me over creation have often begged me to show them “the evidence!” in the case for a Designer. Seriously, after going to Atlanta to see what I saw, I can now simply point to ourselves and reply,

“Exhibit one: Bodies.”

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Filed under Apologetics, Life/Death, places