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His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Only a few people knew his real name—Adam. If you asked me, I’m not sure I could have told you. We called him Buzz. As his daughter told me, “With a name like Buzz, he was bound for greatness.” My friend, Jim Evans, said, “A great tree has fallen in the Lord’s forest.” And so it has. Buzz Baker lived in the rarefied air of greatness in the Lord’s kingdom. We know this because we saw the shining of the Son radiating through him.
Buzz was the man who had the most significant impact on my life. Though most of you do not know him, you have been affected by him. This ministry would not exist today without Buzz Baker. In July 1997, Buzz said ten words to me that completely rearranged and redirected my life. He asked, “Would you be willing to work with me this fall?”
Buzz and Laura (his wife) had a discipleship ministry—then and now. He asked if I would serve with him in the discipleship of the men who came to their ministry. Before this, I had never considered counseling others as an option for my life. Buzz, like a Major League Baseball scout, was willing to take a risk on a country boy with a fastball. He asked. I accepted.
The night he popped the question was the first night Lucia and I visited the church that Buzz attended. We were looking for a new church and had heard how this one was doing good things. We wanted to check it out to see if it would be the right fit for us. Buzz and I had met briefly during the spring semester where we got to know each other.
The fall classes were starting up, and he was looking for a helper. He picked me. After the fall semester, I went from a helper in the class to the class’s teacher. The rest is history, but it was Buzz whom the Lord chose to jump-start my future.
After working with Buzz for another year, I suggested he make a few additions about how they were discipling the attendees. Buzz, who rarely said “no” to anything, asked me to submit a proposal. I did. Buzz read it and said what I was suggesting was too big for their ministry, but I should give it to our pastors. Maybe it would be something the church could do. I did.
Shortly after that, Lucia and I were sitting in front of the elders talking about a church counseling ministry. We began laying the groundwork for a fully orbed counseling ministry that the Lord was about to serve up for our church and community. That counseling ministry is still flourishing today.
It was during this season of my life that the Lord trained me for my vocational life. I began working for the church part-time while working on my MA in Biblical Counseling. Within two years we had a counseling ministry.
Only a handful of people know the story behind the story. Buzz Baker set things in motion for an amazing counseling ministry to come to fruition in our local church. It was Buzz Baker who picked and released me to do what I do today. The Lord decided to use this man to change my life, marriage, family, and career. It is hard for me to write these words without tears because the story is more profound than what you know.
Because of my divorce, I was not permitted to participate in Christian ministry. I belonged to a group of believers who had an unwritten, one strike you’re out clause in their religious system. I had resigned my life as a twenty-nine-year-old man to the sidelines of Christian work. They did permit me to evangelize, but I could not serve in a larger kingdom capacity, especially as a teacher.
It never dawned on me that I could teach, train, counsel, or even write—to do what I do today. I went into Buzz’s discipleship class in the spring of 1997 to learn but nothing more. My reality back then is why his request to teach in the fall was so earth-shattering. I did not know that what he was asking was possible.
Our church at the time was meeting in a renovated grocery store. If we were to go back there today, I could take you to the exact spot where we were standing when he asked me to partner with him. I can still see his smiling face. I can only imagine mine. It was something along the lines of stunned.
In the 1946 movie classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, the desperate George Bailey could not stop thinking about how to escape his little one-horse town, Bedford Falls. Through a work of movie magic and a little imagination, the movie shows us what people’s lives would have been like if George never lived.
Those stories were tragic. Scores of lives were bound to crash and burn if George Bailey did not live. George began to realize how things would have been without him and regretted his foolish thinking. Buzz Baker is my George Bailey.
I went to his funeral in 2013 and heard story after story of people he affected by his life. As the speakers spoke, I glanced across the auditorium and pondered how many others could stand and tell how Buzz had impacted them.
Only our omniscient Lord knows how our lives—Rick and Lucia—would have been different if Buzz had not lived. The Lord wanted him to live (Jeremiah 1:5). The Lord wanted to use him in millions of lives around the world. And He did.
Everything I have done well for the Lord since 1997 flows from those ten words he spoke to me—”Would you be willing to work with me this fall?” If he had not lived and if we had not crossed paths, I cannot imagine—and don’t want to think about—how my life would have been different.
God has blessed me to meet many beautiful people in my life, but Buzz Baker is at the top of my list. I love this man. All my disappointments and broken dreams were reformed and reframed into a fruitful ministry because of the Lord’s choice to call Buzz to a life of ministry, which led to calling me to a life of ministry.
I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1).
Though Buzz taught me many things, three always come to mind when I think about him. The first was his smile. I’m not sure what Buzz looked like when he was sad. Even when he was disappointed, there was something about him that did not seem unhappy. He was a warm, pleasing-to-be-with, faith-filled man. You didn’t mind being around him.
He was always positive but not in the positive mental attitude, plastic way. It was a faith in God way. He was a man of faith. His faith was behind his smile, which is why even when he was sad, you could perceive and feel his faith—a rare gift from the Lord.
His faith made him a strong man, though he never came across as forceful. Every person who had ever met him would testify that he was a man of faith. Yes, he wavered at times as we all do. Yes, he got down at times as we all do. Even so, you never despaired being around him because you felt his faith.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:3).
The second thing and, without question, the most powerful was his thoughts about Jesus. He was fond of saying, “How can we be Jesus to somebody today?” In this way, Buzz was Johnny-one-note. The beat of his heart was to magnify the gospel in any and every way possible.
He was continually scouring the landscape of his life to see who he could be Jesus to today. Buzz, more than anyone else, taught me this outward glance. This kind of look goes away from yourself and places itself in the situations and lives of others.
If loving God and others are the greatest commandments, which they are, then Buzz nailed it like no other person I’ve ever met. If someone told me to follow them as they followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), Buzz Baker is the man I want to hook my wagon to. His desire to imitate his Lord was a fantastic gift to those who knew him.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry (Psalm 34:15).
I live in a social media, technological world, which is scrambling to be on top. Billions of dollars are spent every year by people who want someone to hear them. There are millions of business pages on Facebook who are all clamoring to rise above the hordes. We want our brand and product on top of the pile. I was thinking about this marketing noise problem today.
Buzz would smile at such things. If there was ever a person who was counter to the marketing competition in our world, it was Buzz Baker. The irony is how his life did amplify the Lord (John 3:30). Like the story of our counseling ministry that rose out of his ten words, thousands of folks have been affected by his life. None of us, not even Buzz, could know how far and wide the Lord would use his influence.
Buzz always ran in the background of people’s lives. He never sought to be at the top of the heap. He couldn’t have cared less about those things. He had one job: “Christ must increase, and Buzz must decrease.” From a biblical perspective he was a successful man. This fact may be the lasting effect of his life on me. He reminded me of the gospel as perceived in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
Buzz did things the Lord’s way, and the Lord heard him. He worked from the bottom, not the top. Buzz labored behind the scenes rather than on center stage. He understood the two primary keys to a successful life: faith and prayer. He loved to say, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles” (Psalm 34:6).
Sometimes a person will ask me about my mission statement. I typically say, “I want to take the gospel to every human on the planet, and I want to live twenty-five years after I die.” Buzz never stated his vision this way, but that is how he lived. He had an unquenchable desire to take the gospel to every person globally. Because of how he lived, his influence and impact will continue for many years.
I remember scanning the auditorium during his home-going celebration. It became apparent to me that Buzz Baker’s work was far from over. Death is not the end of life, but the continuation of it. Buzz went to heaven, but his work is far from done. That was not only made clear, but it was affirming. The work of the gospel can continue, even after I die.
What better way to live your life. Give all you have to Jesus and others, and you will die a rich man. We gathered in 2013 to pay tribute to one of the Lord’s richest servants.
Goodbye, Buzz. Thank you for this ministry. Thank you for having faith in the Lord to choose me. Thank you for giving me a shot. See you soon.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).