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Golden Gate student found success empty without God

BREA, Calif. (BP)–By most people’s standards, John Baker had grabbed hold of the keys to success – money, prestige and power. But even though he achieved it all by the time he was 30 years old, Baker realized his life was still empty.

Although he grew up in a Christian home in the Midwest and attended a Baptist church, Baker, a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s southern California campus in Brea, recalled his former life as a “walking, talking paradox.”

To help overcome a lack of self-esteem, he began using alcohol while in college. Although never being arrested for drunk driving, or losing his successful career, Baker called himself a “functioning alcoholic.” He was a leader in his church’s Wednesday night children’s ministry program, while at the same time stopping by his local bar on the way there to help him “unwind.” He coached his son’s little league baseball team, but would stop by the local pizza parlor after the games with his assistant for a few pitchers of beer.

“Slowly, I became more and more uncomfortable with the lifestyle I was leading. I had a choice,” Baker said. “Do it my way, continue drinking and living by the world’s standards, or surrender, repent and do it God’s way. I wish I could say that I saw the light and did it God’s way, but the truth is, I initially chose my way.”

In early 1991, Baker, who was separated from his wife, finally realized he had to lean on God for strength and guidance, and not on his own. He accepted his family’s invitation to attend a Sunday service at Saddleback Valley Community Church in southern California, which at that time was held in a gymnasium. It had been five years since he’d last attended church, but Baker said that once he heard the music and listened to pastor Rick Warren’s message, he knew he was home.

Baker soon began to see how destructive and unfulfilled his life had been when he, not the Lord, was “in control.” He was finally willing to let the Lord lead and in just five months after he began attending Saddleback, Baker and his wife, Cheryl, renewed their wedding vows. They have celebrated more than 30 years of marriage.

“I initially became a lay pastor in the recovery and small groups ministry at Saddleback,” Baker explained. “God gave me a vision to develop a recovery program based on the Beatitudes from Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in the book of Matthew. I took my plan to develop this new ministry called Celebrate Recovery to Rick Warren, and he said do it!”

In 1992, Baker, who has an MBA from St. Louis University, joined the church’s pastoral staff full-time, and began developing the “Celebrate Recovery” program, based on the Bible as the key and logical step to recovery. Pastor Warren had been uncomfortable with the 12-step program’s vagueness concerning the nature of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He began an intense study of the Scriptures to discover what God had to say about recovery.

Based on this study from the eight recovery principles found in the Sermon on the Mount, he developed and preached on a ten-week series of messages called “The Road to Recovery.” It was during this series that Baker developed the participant’s guides that have become the “heart” and curriculum of the Celebrate Recovery program.

“The church really exploded in growth once Pastor Rick began this series of messages,” Baker explained. “Recovery is very much part of Rick Warren’s heart.”

“Because the Celebrate Recovery curriculum is biblically based, and not addiction- or compulsion-based it can be used for all different types of hurts, hang-ups and habits,” Baker added. “We field tested the curriculum for nearly six years before Zondervan published the four-series workbooks and leaders’ guide.” The Celebrate Recovery series has seen multiple printings and is being used in hundreds of churches across the country.

“I’m really excited by everything the Lord’s doing,” Baker said. “My family life has been blessed, and I have found Golden Gate Seminary to have very practical teaching and instruction that I can take back to the church and use as a pastor immediately.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JOHN BAKER.

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  • Scott Simpson