My dear friend, Chet Baker, went to be with the Lord on Sunday, September 9, 2012. I had the honor of serving as the lead pastor at his memorial service on Friday, September 14. I’m posting my memorial message here in an effort to honor Chet’s name and give glory to the God who has welcomed Chet home.
Chester A. “Chet” Baker
Memorial Service Message
September 14, 2012
It’s Thursday afternoon the week of Chet’s home-going. I just finished watching the DVD slideshow Chet’s family prepared for the memorial service. And I’m weeping. As I watched the beautiful photo memories move graciously across my monitor, my eyes welled up with tears of sorrow and grief. I miss Chet.
But while my tears flow from sorrow, they also stream with joy. For I know that death is not the final word for Chet, but life, everlasting life. Chet heard and believed the promise of John 8:51 where our Lord declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” In the most real sense Chet never saw death. When he breathed his last he saw not death, but Jesus.
I had the privilege of meeting Chet shortly after I began my pastorate here at Immanuel Bible Church just over two years ago. Chet was one of the faithful brothers that came to our Thursday morning men’s Bible study. I realized early on that Chet must have been a morning person because the 6:30 a.m. start time didn’t seem to phase him – not like several of us that came stumbling in groping for another cup of coffee. Chet always seemed ready to fellowship around the Word of God.
It was during these Thursday mornings that I learned about Chet’s love for his wife Roylene. When telling a story that included both of them he always spoke with an obvious affection for the one who was both his wife and best friend. This beautiful reality was reinforced for me this week when Roylene shared with me the story that is the inspiration for the words printed on the cover of today’s program. The words are from the song, “Jesus, You Are My All in All.”
The story, as many of you can imagine, has to do with Lake Padden. To know Chet and Roylene is to know something of how much they loved to walk around Lake Padden. These walks were dates for them. As the cancer continued to grow in Chet and their Padden walks became harder, Chet and Roylene decided to memorize the words to this song and sing them to each other as they walked. Can you imagine hearing Chet and Roylene as they walked around Lake Padden coaching each other with these faith-building words?
You are my strength when I am weak,
you are the treasure that I seek;
You are my all in all.
Seeking you as a precious jewel,
Lord, to give up I’d be a fool;
You are my all in all.
Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is your name;
Jesus, Lamb of God, Holy is your name.
I wish I could have been along on those walks to hear this husband and wife, these two best friends, encouraging one another in these bedrock truths.
It was also on Thursday mornings that I learned of Chet’s love for his children and grandchildren as he talked about them with deep fatherly love and hope for their futures. Thursday mornings gave me a window into his 32 years of teaching – both the challenges and the joys. And it was during some of our conversations on Thursday mornings that I learned of his love for their property on Guemes Island, how it served as a wonderful get-away for Chet and the family. But above all, Thursday mornings taught me about Chet’s sincere faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
After Chet’s diagnosis toward the end of last year, I had the honor of visiting with Chet and Roylene several times in the comfort of their home. My admiration for Chet only increased through our conversations in the kitchen or living room or out on the back deck (and one afternoon in the woods on their property when Chet showed me the swing he built for Roylene). And it was in the Baker home that Chet and I would share, among other things, our mutual affection for the Apostle Paul and his perspective on suffering.
In talking with Chet I would marvel at how beautifully he was, like the Apostle, out of step with the world. After all, Paul is the one who looked at his chains while in prison and wrote in Philippians 1:18, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul went on to write of how it was becoming known throughout the Roman Empire that he was in chains for Christ and how Christians were emboldened in their witness given his suffering for the gospel.
What gave the Apostle Paul such a radical worldview? How was he able to look at his suffering like this? We see the answer in Philippians 1:21 where Paul declares, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul was utterly determined, with a holy determination, to make his life count for Christ while he lived. And Paul knew that when he died it would be not loss, but gain because of the surpassing value of Christ Jesus his Lord. For Paul, Jesus was more to be desired than life itself.
Likewise, Chet saw his cancer as an opportunity for him to witness to the love of Christ – an opportunity for him to demonstrate to his family, friends, and church that Jesus was his all in all. Chet was resolved that while he lived he would live for Christ. His breath would testify to the Savior’s love for him. Chet also believed that to die is gain because when God called him home he would receive the goal of his faith, the salvation of his soul. Chet was given the grace to see through his cancer into the gospel and say with the Apostle, “I will not lose heart. Though my outer self is wasting away, my inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as I look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (Cf., 2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Like the great coach and educator that he was for over 30 years, Chet was teaching us how to die to the gory of God. Were we taking notes? Were we paying attention in this priceless class on eternal things? I, for one, have a heart full of invaluable lessons for which I am forever grateful.
On the Thursday before Chet went to be with the Lord, Pastor Tim and I had the honor of visiting with Chet in his home. Even with all of the medication Chet needed to control the pain, he was lucid and able to participate well in the conversation as he sat in the blue La-Z-Boy chair next to the sofa.
Chet spoke of his love for his family and the house that we were visiting in – the one he and Roylene sold, but then didn’t sell because, as he said, “I just couldn’t do it.” There were just too many precious memories to let other owners occupy 4301 Harrison St.
After about an hour of fellowship I knelt beside Chet and read from Philippians 1. We were reminding each other that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Then Tim and Roylene knelt beside Chet on the other side of the chair as we held hands and prayed to our Heavenly Father.
What happened next is a gift beyond words and says so much about the man Chet is. As Tim and I prepared to leave, Chet was determined to stand up. As sick as he was we tried to encourage him that he certainly didn’t need to get up. But he would have none of it. Chet stood unassisted and blessed us as we left.
Since that day just over a week ago I’ve thought much about that event. I believe on Sunday, September 9 in the late afternoon a similar scene unfolded in Heaven. Only this time it was the Lord Jesus Christ standing welcoming Chet with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, enter the joy of My salvation.”